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Distracted Driving, Impaired Driving, and the Holidays

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Tis the season for accidents, especially car accidents.  Rushing around buying that last minute present or grocery shopping, you are juggling a thousand things including your work responsibilities which don’t take a holiday.  Add to that mix holiday parties where drinking is involved and you have a perfect storm for a car accident.  The New York Metropolitan area witnesses an uptick in distraction related crashes each year in spite of the ever present warnings to pay attention especially during this time of year.

The NY State Police have a message for all of us: “In New York State, the “Driver Inattention/Distraction” category is not the lead cause for fatalities, but it is by far, the leading category in both property damage and personal injury crashes. In addition, the number of “Driver Inattention/Distraction” related crashes have been steadily increasing, going from 57,006 crashes in 2017 to 87,728 in 2018.

New York State has been at the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001. Recognizing the potential threat posed by texting and other messaging technologies, a secondary enforcement texting law was enacted in 2009, and then changed to a primary offense in 2011. Despite the efforts of law enforcement and the recent Commissioners Regulation adding five points to each cell phone and electronic device usage while driving, the use of mobile electronicselectronic devices continues to proliferate.

The New York State Police has taken a proactive approach to reducing distracted driving through a combined enforcement and education effort in concert with other agencies. Enforcement initiatives such as “Operation Hang-Up” as well as educational awareness campaigns conducted at key events, such as the State Fair and county fairs throughout the state have helped raise public awareness.

If you are going to a holiday party or to a relative’s house and drinking will be involved, plan ahead.  Prior to the party is when you should choose a designated driver, plan to stay overnight, or arrange for an alternative method of transportation.  It is better to be safe than sorry. 

Besides being a common sense approach to the holidays, NY has some tough “distracted driving” laws.  Here are a few:

llegal activity includes holding an electronic device and:

  • Composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving electronic data such as e-mail, text messages, or webpages
  • Viewing, taking, or transmitting images
  • Playing games

The penalty for a violation of this law shall be a fine of up to $200, for the first offense and 5 driver penalty points. It is a primary law, which means an officer may stop you if you are observed using a hand held device. The law does not penalize drivers using a handheld electronic device that is affixed to a vehicle surface or using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle, or if drivers are using a handheld device to report an emergency to the authorities. The law defines the following terms as:

  1. “Portable electronic device” shall mean any hand-held mobile telephone, as defined by subdivision one of section twelve hundred twenty-five-c of this article, personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device.
  2. “Using” shall mean holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages, or other electronic data.

New Yorks Cellular Phone Law

Use of a hand-held cellular telephone to engage in a call while driving is prohibited in New York State, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225c. This law became effective December 1, 2001 violators may be issued a ticket for a traffic infraction, resulting in a fine of up to $200.


  • When the driver uses a hands-free mobile telephone, which allows the user to communicate without the use of either hand.
  • When the purpose of the phone call is to communicate an emergency to a police or fire department, a hospital or physician’s office, or an ambulance corps.
  • When operating an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of official duties.

Be safe and smart this holiday season so you’re around to enjoy the next one. If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s distracted driving, call Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP today at (212) 684-1880. Our New York attorneys are ready to assist you in pursuing the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!

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