Governor Signs Law Making Use Of Handheld Electronics A Primary Offense

July 14, 2011 Updated Jul 14, 2011 at 12:38 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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July 14, 2011 Updated Jul 14, 2011 at 12:38 PM EDT

ORCHARD PARK, NY ( release )Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was in Erie County Thursday to sign a new law that strengthens the enforcement against drivers who use handheld electronic devices while their vehicle is in motion. The legislation makes actions like texting while driving a primary traffic offense, giving law enforcement the power to stop drivers solely for engaging in this activity. Governor Cuomo signed the law at Erie Community College at an event with local law enforcement and community members.

The Governor also announced that he will increase the penalty for using a cellular phone without a hands-free device or an electronic handheld device while driving from two to three points through changes in state regulations.

"I am proud to sign this bill today, both as the Governor and as a father of three teenagers," Governor Cuomo said. "A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. Using a handheld electronic device while driving can cause damage, injuries, and even death -- but it's all avoidable. Now we can help put a stop to this dangerous activity, prevent needless tragedies, and make our roads safer for all New Yorkers."

Before this law, it was illegal for drivers to use handheld electronic devices while their vehicle was in motion, but it was a secondary traffic offense -- meaning a driver had to be stopped for another violation in order to receive a ticket.

The new law makes it a primary traffic offense and it will go into effect immediately. The monetary penalty for a violation of this law continues to be a fine of up to $150.

Illegal 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 law does not penalize drivers using a handheld electronic device that is affixed to a surface or using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle. The law also exempts police officers, fire fighters, or emergency vehicle drivers while they are performing their duties. In addition, a driver is exempt from the law if the driver is communicating or attempting to communicate with law enforcement, the fire department, or medical personnel during an emergency situation.

New York State Senator Carl L. Marcellino said, "With this new legislation, New York State driving laws have finally caught up with today's technology. Our new law will strengthen enforcement against drivers using handheld electronic devices and help keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe. I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo as he signs the bill I sponsored into law and we finally make distracted driving a serious offense."

New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg said, "As a former police officer, I've seen the devastation caused by distracted drivers. Today, we are giving law enforcement the tools they need to keep our roads safe and prevent future accidents. These changes will save lives. I'd like to thank Governor Cuomo for supporting this law and I look forward to our continued work together."

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said, "Motorists should now realize the dangers of operating a motor vehicle while texting on mobile devices or talking on a cell phone without an approved hands-free device. This change in the statute will allow law enforcement to continue the battle against distracted driving. Distracted driving is dangerous driving and drivers must reduce diversion and behaviors that take their attention from the road. Attentive, responsible, defensive driving is the key to avoiding crashes and keeping our highways safe."

Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew D. Benz said, "I am proud to be here with Governor Cuomo as he signs this important law. Using a handheld electronic device while driving might seem harmless, but it can cost someone their life. With this legislation, New York State is sending a strong message that the reckless behavior involved in distracted driving will not be tolerated."

Town of Hamburg Police Chief Michael Williams said, "This new law will benefit all drivers and pedestrians in our community. I commend Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this important issue. It is good to see our partners in government all working together with law enforcement to protect the public."

President of AAA New York State Thomas Hoy said, "With nearly 2 trillion text messages sent last year, texting represents the most dangerous form of distracted driving. We applaud the Governor and lawmakers for stiffening the consequences for those who jeopardize the rest of us with their careless conduct."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16% of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20% of people injured during a crash were involved in a crash where distracted driving was reported. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash