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Distracted driving law and negligence in New York

In our last post, we began speaking about recent data showing an increase in car accidents in the first half of 2015, which may be partly due to increase cell phone use. As we noted, distracted driving is a problem every state is currently grappling with, using a variety of means.

In terms of distracted driving legislation, most states have a special statute aimed directly at cell phone use by drivers. These laws vary from state to state, both in how cell phone by drivers is regulated and how police officers may enforce the laws. Here in New York, the law is fairly straightforward in both of these respects. 

First of all, New York prohibits drivers of all ages from texting while driving. Texting is probably the distracted driving activity most banned among the states, and for good reasons. The texting ban is classified as a primary law, meaning that police officers may enforce the law even when there are no other violations. Secondary laws, by contrast, may only be enforced when there are other violations. Second, New York law bans the use of handheld devices by drivers of all ages. This is also classified as a primary law.

In other words, drivers in New York are permitted to use hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth technology or voice activated phone technology. This technology, however, still involves distraction, and it is up to drivers opting to use it to make sure they do everything possible to reduce their level of distraction. By law, motorists are accountable for maintaining control of their vehicle at all times, and are expected to exercise reasonable care in all circumstances. A motorist who causes an accident while using hands-free phone technology can still be sued for negligence.

Source:, “New York,” Accessed Nov. 27, 2015. 

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