What are New York’s distracted driving laws?

New York has a strict distracted driving law in place, though it could be arguably more comprehensive to keep the roads safer.

Across the country, there were approximately 431,000 injuries in 2014 that can be attributed to a distracted driver, and 3,179 fatalities, according to Distraction.gov. Despite these scary statistics, people in New York continue to use their phones while behind the wheel.

There are also strict laws in place that prohibit certain distracting behaviors. Every driver should know these laws, and anyone who is a victim of a distracted driving accident should know their rights.

The law

The New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee reports that no driver is permitted to use a portable electronic device. This encompasses a number of activities, such as sending text messages, reading an email, talking on the phone or playing games. Someone who violates this law faces a fine as well as accumulating violation points on the person’s driver’s license, not to mention that this behavior could lead to a serious or even fatal accident.


There are some exceptions to this law. For example, drivers are allowed to use hands-free devices to communicate, such as a hands-free phone. Drivers in New York are also permitted to do the following:

  • Use a handheld device in case of emergency
  • Use an electronic or GPS device if it is attached to the vehicle
  • Use a device if it is in the scope of operating an emergency vehicle

It must be noted that simply because these acts are permissible does not make them necessarily safe. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that some of these technologies – especially ones with poor voice recognition software – can actually create a dangerous situation for drivers.

Other types of distractions

There are a number of other distractions that New York laws do not address. Distractions can be categorized as manual, visual and cognitive. Texting on a handheld device, for example, encompasses all three because it requires someone to hold the device, look at it and think about what is happening.

Approaching distractions in this way highlights just how many activities can take a driver’s focus off the road. Eating involves a manual and visual distraction, using a hands-free device is cognitively distracting, and grooming can be manually, visually and cognitively distracting.

In essence, any time a driver has to take his or her focus off the task at hand, it is dangerous. People behind the wheel should always concentrate solely on making sure they are obeying the law and aware of their surroundings.

When drivers fail to do so, tragedies can result. New York law permits victims of car accidents to hold these negligent motorists accountable for the damages they suffer. People who have questions about this topic should speak to a personal injury attorney in New York.