Harsher texting and driving punishment in effect

A first-time texting while driving offense will now A first-time texting while driving offense will now cost five points on your license -- up from three points -- as well as a fine of $230, added for texting or use of any electronic device. Photo Credit: iStock

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Tough new penalties for motorists who text and drive took effect Friday, drawing strong support from Long Islanders -- even a few admitted violators.

Motorists caught talking on a handheld phone or sending texts or emails while driving now face a fine of up to $150 for a first offense, an increase of $50.

Three tickets in 18 months? The fine could be as high as $400.

Drivers will also get five points on their license for each violation, up from three. A license can be revoked after a driver racks up 11 points in an 18-month period.

AAA New York calls the sanctions "the toughest regulations in the nation" against distracted driving.

They're aimed at convincing drivers like Paul Sgro to change their ways.

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"It's hard not to be glued to your phone these days," said Sgro, 22, of Long Beach.

For personal and professional reasons, the social worker said he texts and uses his handheld cellphone while behind the wheel "more than I would like to admit."

Kerry Bello, 45, of Commack, said she texts while driving on occasion, admitting that's "probably a problem." The prospect of big fines and a suspended license, however, has her vowing to put the phone down.

Woodie Sims, 62, of Huntington, said she was recently looking at a map on her phone when she bumped the car in front of her.

Sims called the accident a "wake-up call" and said she hasn't texted on the road since. She predicts many others will follow suit -- when they "start getting tickets."

In announcing the harsher penalties earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said one in five crashes statewide are caused by distracted drivers.

About 61 percent of drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 admit to texting while driving, according to a national AAA survey. A Federal Highway Administration study found that drivers are 23 times more likely to crash while texting than while driving normally.

Other research has shown that texting drivers take their eyes off the road for about five seconds each time they read or send a text -- at highway speeds, the length of a football field.

Texting "engages the driver visually, manually and cognitively," the AAA said, "creating a trifecta of deadly distractions."

Tom Wagner, 50, of Huntington Station, said Friday that he's happy New York State is throwing the book at "arrogant" drivers who are "always on the phone."

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Steve Wolfenstein, 72, of Melville, agrees, saying tougher penalties should help curb what he calls "the worst thing in the world" -- and likely save lives.

Wolfenstein, who uses a Bluetooth device when driving, said the government needs to do a better job of publicizing the new laws.

"They need to advertise it more to get people to put that phone away," he said. "They really do."

With John Valenti

FINES FOR TEXTING AND DRIVING

Motorists caught using a hand-held phone or sending texts or emails while driving now face stiffer penalties:

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For a first offense, fines range from $50 to $150 (up from $100).

For a second offense within 18 months, the maximum fine is $200.

For subsequent offenses within 18 months, a maximum fine is $400.

Drivers will also get five points on their license for each violation. A license can be revoked after a driver racks up 11 points in an 18-month period.

Source: New York State Department of Motor Vehicles

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