The smartphone is joining the automobile as a central technology in the American way of life. Unfortunately, as these two ways of life overlap on the roads of New York, there are dangerous consequences. Distracted driving – and using a cell phone behind the wheel, in particular, has caused a huge increase in the number of car accidents in NYC. In an effort to keep our roads safer, laws forbidding the use of cell phones while driving have been written and enforced. 

What are the legal consequences of using your cell phone while driving in New York City?   

Enforcement – What Are the Laws About Cell Phones and Driving?

There are two New York State Laws pertaining to the use of cell phones while driving.  

The first is VTL 1225(c): Use of mobile telephonesan operator of a motor vehicle who holds a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of his or her ear while such vehicle is in motion is presumed to be engaging in a call.

Unless the driver is calling to report an emergency, any driver caught talking on a handheld phone is breaking the law.  

The second is VTL 1225(d): Use of portable electronic devices…no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using any portable electronic device while such vehicle is in motion.

This law applies to any use of a smartphone that isn’t making a phone call.  Everything from texting to scrolling Facebook in traffic – even using GPS apps. If a driver is looking down at a phone in their hand, they are breaking the law.  This law applies to all electronic devices but is most often applied to drivers using smartphones while driving. It is sometimes referred to as a “texting violation.”

In the State of New York, using your phone while driving is considered a primary offense. This means that traffic officers don’t need to catch you speeding or running a stop sign in order to pull you over. If an officer sees you with a phone in your hand, that is reason enough to pull you over. 

Basically, if you are using a handheld device while you drive in the State of New York, you are breaking the law. And if a traffic officer sees you using your phone, they can pull you over, and write you a ticket.  

New York State Fines and Surcharges – How Much Does a Cell Phone Ticket Cost in New York? 

Violations of both VTL 1225 (c) (cell phone use) and VTL 1225 (d) (electronic device use) carry the same heavy fines. 

  • First-time Offenders can pay up to $150.
  • For a second offense within 18 months of a first violation, you face a fine of up to $250.
  • A third offense in that same 18-month span could result in a fine of up to $450.

In addition to the fine, all offenders will also be required to pay a mandatory $93 surcharge. 

That means a single ticket for texting while driving could cost you as much as $243. Offenders who are convicted three times within an 18 month period could pay as much as $1129 after all of the fines and surcharges.

Driver Violation Point System – Does a Cell Phone Ticket Count Against my License? 

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles uses a Driver Violation Point System to track driving and give consequences to high-risk drivers. Every traffic violation is assigned a point value (For example, failure to signal carries 2 points, red-light violations carry 3 points). If a driver accumulates 11 or more points in an 18-month window, their license could be suspended. 

A violation of either cell phone-related traffic law carries 5 Driver Violation Points. In the State of New York, a driver who accumulates more than 6 Driver Violation Points in an 18 month period will be required to pay the Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee. 

When a driver hits their sixth Driver Violation Point, there is a $300 fine, plus an additional $75 for each additional Driver Violation Point.

Insurance – Can a Cell Phone Ticket Affect my Insurance?

In most cases, insurance companies will raise rates of customers who violate cell phone laws while driving.  In New York, car insurance rates have increased by an average of 28% since 2011. This is well below the national average of 23% (In California, the average insurance rate increase for a cell phone violation is 45%).

Are Cell Phone Tickets More Expensive in New York City Than in the Rest of New York State? 

Even though the traffic laws, fines, and surcharges related to cell phone violations are the same in New York City as they are in the rest of the state, the consequences of using a cell phone within the 5 boroughs are often greater than outside city limits. 

This is because NYC driving violations are processed by the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) instead of by a typical city or county traffic court. The TVB does not allow ticketed drivers many plea bargains. As a result, the vast majority of cell phone driving cases end in conviction.