State lawmakers OK texting while driving ban

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday an New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday an increase in the penalty for texting while driving. (May 31, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- Young and inexperienced drivers would have their licenses suspended for at least 60 days if caught texting and driving or using a hand-held phone while driving, under a measure approved by the state legislature.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who kicked off a campaign to crack down on texting and driving just a week ago, is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Backers said the growing tendency for inexperienced drivers to text while behind the wheel has put too many lives at stake.

"For a new driver, the dangerous habit of texting or calling while driving is lethal," said Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), who sponsored the bill in the state Senate. "Young and inexperienced drivers need to stay focused on the task at hand -- driving safely."

"No parent should have to experience losing a child at the hands of a text message," Cuomo said.

The Senate (62-1) and Assembly (137-0) both overwhelmingly passed the bill Wednesday.

Under the measure, a person holding a probationary or junior license would have his or her license suspended for 60 days if ticketed for using a hand-held phone or texting while driving. A probationary driver is defined as someone who has held a license for less than 60 days.

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If caught again within six months of license restoration, probationary drivers would have their license revoked for six months; junior license holders would have their permit or license revoked for an additional 60 days, according to a legislative memo filed with the bill.

Assemb. Edward Hennessey (D-Medford), who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said boosting penalties sends a message.

"We need all drivers, especially young drivers, to understand that any message they think they need to read or send can wait -- their lives, as well as others, may depend on it," Hennessey said in a statement.

This bill is New York's latest effort to crack down on distracted driving. In 2011, lawmakers gave police the power to stop motorists solely for using a cellphone while driving. Previously, it was considered a "secondary" offense, meaning a driver could be cited for texting while driving only if another violation such as speeding or running a red light is noticed. In the first year after the law was enacted, tickets issued for texting while driving grew 234 percent, according to Cuomo.

Earlier this year, lawmakers increased the maximum fine for distracted driving to $400 and Cuomo recently increased driver's license penalties from three to five points.

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