N.Y. regional text messaging legislation

Last updated: July 7, 2017
new york state flag for regional cities countiesN.Y. regional text messaging news: About 24,000 tickets for texting were issued in New York City in 2013, as of mid-October, DMV numbers show. Counties with a large number of citations include Erie (1,568), Suffolk (1,716), Monroe (1,559) and Nassau (1,121).

The state of New York has upgraded its enforcement of the texting while driving law to primary status. At the same time, the governor ordered the DMV to add a fifth point against the licenses of distracted drivers.

Prior to the get-tough moves in Albany, counties in New York state had been quite active in setting up regional laws outlawing texting while driving. (See background below.)

(View New York state texting and driving legislation.)

Distracted driving news (New York local):
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office says it has so many complaints about distracted drivers that it has provided an online report form. No one actually gets a ticket, but the alleged offenders receive a “nice reminder” from the Sheriff’s Office that texting & using cell phones while driving are illegal. It asks for detailed information, so the hope is the complaining drivers will pull over and write down the info.

Suffolk County Police wrote 1,109 tickets for handheld cell phone use and texting between July 31 and Aug. 6, 2011. “While this weeklong (distracted driving) initiative has come to a conclusion, our officers will continue to aggressively enforce cell phone laws,” Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said.

Syracuse’s federally funded crackdown on distracted drivers ended April 16, 2011, with about 1,550 tickets written in the fourth, concluding sweep. Overall, Syracuse-area police issued 9,587 citations for electronic distracted driving during the 2010-2011 sweeps.

The federal DOT said the Syracuse crackdown resulted in a one-third reduction in drivers’ handheld cell phone use and text messaging. The $300,000 program began in April 2010 and ended in April 2011.

Syracuse’s revenues from the distracted driving tickets issued in the four 2010-2011 sweeps totaled more than $400,000 as of August 2011, the Post-Standard reports. The majority of the funds came in surcharges attached to the tickets, which numbered 9,352. Money is still being collected as outstanding cases are settled.

Local N.Y. texting laws and legislation (background):
Erie County (Buffalo area) has enacted a local distracted driving law that treats text messaging as a primary traffic offense, meaning law officers can pull over violators for that reason alone. The fine for texting in Erie County is $150. County executive Chris Collins signed off on the law in November 2009.

“New York State’s law doesn’t have any teeth,” said legislation sponsor Erie County Legislator Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo. “By putting forth this law here today, we are making texting while driving illegal here in Erie County, and New York State should follow suit.”

The Erie County bill’s other sponsor, Timothy Wroblewski, D-West Seneca, says: “Frankly, the (text messaging) legislation pending in Albany … does not go far enough.”

Montgomery County is considering a texting ordinance.

The Traffic Safety Board in Otsego County is developing a plan to ban text messaging by all drivers.

Local N.Y. texting while driving laws:
Albany County has banned text messaging for all motorists. Fines are $150.

Broome County, New York, has outlawed text messaging while driving. The unanimous county Legislature vote came on May 21, 2009, and the bill was signed into law June 26. Legislator Jason Garnar proposed the ban, which calls for fines of up to $150.

The Niagara County Legislature has banned text messaging while behind the wheel. Fines are $150 under the law, which went into effect in early October. “It’s unfortunate that the governor signed that law,” said Legislator Jason Murgia, D-Niagara Falls, referring to the New York ban that calls for only secondary enforcement.

Cattaraugus County’s law against text messaging while driving went into effect Aug. 1, 2009.

The town of Amherst has approved a ban on test messaging while driving. The Aug. 17 vote by the Town Board calls for a $150 fine for texting behind the wheel. Sponsor Shelly Schratz noted that the local law would be helpful in driver education and would lead to prominent road signs warning against texting.

Onondaga County (Syracuse) legislators have banned text messaging for all drivers. The new texting law took effect July 1, 2009.

Onondaga County legislator Patrick Kilmartin’s texting law was modeled after others adopted by New York state counties. The Onondaga County sheriff’s department and district attorney supported Kilmartin’s plan. The Syracuse Police Department opposed the texting legislation. Capt. Shannon Trice, head of the police traffic division, said he would not tell officers to carry out the law. (Update: As of mid-October, deputies had not issued a single ticket. “It’s a new law. It’s going to be a difficult law to enforce,” a spokesman said.)

Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie) has approved a text messaging ban proposed by Legislator William McCabe, D-Union Vale. Fines would top out at $150. OK’d by the Public Safety Committee in a 9-1 vote on June 4 and then by the county Legislature in a 22-3 vote on June 8. The reluctant county executive confirmed July 10 that he would not veto the legislation, fearing that such a move would signal that it’s OK to text and drive.

Cayuga County has prohibited any “process by which users send or receive messages on wireless handsets.” Fines would top out at $150. The Cayuga County texting ban was approved July 28, 2009.

Tioga County has adopted a ban on text messaging while driving a motor vehicle. The County Legislature voted 8-1 for the plan on July 14. The lone holdout called it “a stupid law.” Fines would be as much as $150. The Tioga County ban on texting while driving goes into effect in late fall.

Ulster County has enacted a ban on text messaging and emailing while driving. “The statistics are clear,” Ulster County Executive Michael Hein said as he signed the legislation. “These actions put innocent people’s lives at risk, and this law will protect the people of Ulster County.”

Greene County has prohibited reading, writing and sending of text messages while driving. The approval came June 17 in a unanimous vote. Greene County legislators gave tentative approval to the plan to outlaw text messaging while driving on May 18, 2009. Violators will be subject to fines up to $150.

Schuyler County banned text messaging while driving on Feb. 12, 2009. The law went into effect March 16. “We have limited man power and cell phone use and texting becomes a difficult enforcement issue,” said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn. The sheriff has said he’ll enforce the new law.

The Ontario County Board of Supervisors approved a text messaging ban for all drivers on April 23, 2009. In June 2007, five teenage girls in East Bloomfield died in a crash blamed on texting.

Schenectady County has banned text messaging while driving. The ordinance, approved Dec. 10, brings a $150 fine for violators. It went into effect March 1, 2009.

Monroe County’s ban on text messaging while driving goes into effect July 1. Violators face a $150 fine. New York State’s lack of action on the issue inspired the ordinance.

The Westchester County Board passed a text-messaging ban for drivers in September 2008. “We have an obligation to legislate on this issue,” said County Legislator Vito Pinto. The county-wide ban on text messaging eliminates the need for separate municipal actions, the board said.

Nassau and Suffolk counties have local laws. Enforcement of the Nassau texting and driving law began in late December 2008.

Suffolk’s cell phone ban took effect in September 2008. The county voted again to ban texting while driving, but concerns were immediately raised about enforcement.

Oneida County’s ban on text messaging was approved March 11, 2009, and will go into effect in late May. The vote was 28-0. Drivers texting in Oneida County will face fines of up to $150.

Rockland county banned text messaging while driving in a late 2008 vote..

City, county legislation notes:

Upstate New York is particularly sensitive to the dangers of text messaging while driving. In June 2007, five teenage girls from Monroe County died when their SUV veered into oncoming traffic and hit a big rig. The driver’s cell phone was used to make a call, and to send and receive text messages moments just before the crash, officials said. The accident occurred in the Finger Lakes region of Ontario County, just days after the girls graduated from high school.

Legislator Ed Welsh, R-Utica, revived the Oneida County anti-texting plan after it was killed in committee. Welsh is general manager of Central Region AAA New York. “Among the distractions that we could list, text messaging is about the worst of them all,” he said.

An earlier Onedia County plan to ban text messaging died in late November 2008 as a key committee split on the measure. Sponsor Edward P. Welsh, R-21, Utica, did not attend the hearing.


  1. Why make laws? You can’t seem to stop people from talking on cell phones while driving, so what makes you think you can stop them from texting? Have the cell phone manufacturers disable the texting feature when the GPS feature in the new cell phones registers movement above 10 mph. In a couple of years the problem disappears.

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