Texting at a red light? Cuomo wants to bolster ban

Cuomo Strengthens Texting-While-Stopped Laws

ALBANY - Ever sneak in a text when you're driving and stopped at a red light? Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to ensure it is illegal.

The governor in recent days proposed a handful of changes to the state's vehicle and traffic law, including one that would tighten a ban on using portable electronic devices while driving regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion.

Cuomo also wants to bolster the state's seat-belt law by requiring all occupants of a passenger vehicle to be buckled in, no matter their age and whether they are in the front or back seat.

The proposals were tucked into Cuomo's 380-page written State of the State message, which he provided to legislators Wednesday.

The traffic law changes would address the "root causes of highway fatalities," his office wrote.

"Changing behaviors and providing enforcement tools as they relate to driver error is important in reducing the number of highway fatalities in 2017 and beyond," the message reads.

Current state law prohibits drivers from "using any portable electronic device" while operating a vehicle, including cell phones without a hands-free mechanism.

First-time violators face a fine of up to $200 and five points on their license.

But a portion of the law says the ban applies "while such vehicle is in motion," which made the law more difficult to enforce if someone is stopped at a traffic light or in stop-and-go traffic.

Courts have generally held the ban still applies, but Cuomo wants to make the law clear that the texting ban is in effect whether the vehicle is in motion or stopped.

He also wants to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones with hands-free devices, which is currently permitted.

Meanwhile, the Democratic governor proposed strengthening the seat-belt law, which was first passed under then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor's late father.

As it stands, state law requires all drivers and front-seat passengers to wear a safety belt, along with rear-seat passengers under the age of 16.

Cuomo's proposal would require all passengers -- children and adults, front seat and rear seat -- to wear safety belts.

Alec Slatky, policy and regulatory affairs liaison for AAA Northeast, praised Cuomo's traffic=law proposals, saying they will help cut down on driver distractions and improve safety.

"We want to make sure we get the message across to put the phone down for the entire length of driving," Slatky said. "It doesn't matter if you're at a stop light -- keep the phone down."

Last year, AAA released a report that found 886 people who were age 16 or older and not wearing a seat belt in the rear seat had died over the past 20 years in New York car accidents.

Gannett Albany


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