Drivers busy texting or talking or their cell phones might soon be holding a hefty traffic ticket as local police department join the New York State Police in a crackdown on distracted driving as part of April’s National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The crackdown, called Operation Hang Up, is a special enforcement effort to step up patrols and checkpoints targeting drivers on electronic devices, said Trooper Melissa McMorris, spokeswoman for the NYSP.
While tickets for cell phone use continue to decline, the proliferation of smartphones has caused texting tickets to rise every year since 2011, state police said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nationwide in 2015, 3,477 people were killed in distracted driving crashes and an estimated 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
In addition, according to a study conducted by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, in 2015, 160 people were killed and more than 33,000 were injured in crashes in New York that had "driver inattention/distraction" reported as a contributing factor.
The same report noted that 21 to 22 percent of police-reported fatal and personal injury crashes had “driver inattention/distraction” reported as a contributing factor each year.
"Cell phone use and texting are responsible for a significant proportion of traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths. If you're texting, you're not driving," said New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II.
During the operation last year, state police issued more than 18,000 tickets, including more than 2,000 tickets for distracted driving.
Current New York State law includes the following penalties for distracted drivers:
- For a first offense, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum is $200.
- A second offense in 18 months increases the maximum fine to $250.
- A third offense in 18 months results in a maximum fine of $450.
- Probationary and junior drivers face a 120-day suspension of their license for a first offense, and a one-year revocation of their permit or license if a second offense is committed within six months.