According to the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, distracted driving is the number one cause of motor vehicle accidents in New York State. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that the same factor was responsible for 2,841 deaths around the country in 2018.

Needless to say, distracted driving is too seldom taken seriously. There are also more dangers adding to the problem than ever before. Let’s start by understanding the primary causes of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving Causes

The first category involves cognitive distractions such as stress and fatigue. Examples include:

  • Traveling home after working long hours
  • Arguments with other passengers
  • Contemplating stressful events
  • Conflict with other motorists

There are also visual distractions that can take your eyes off the road, such as:

  • Turning around to check on passengers
  • Looking at the GPS for directions
  • Gazing at scenery or accidents
  • Checking notifications

Finally, you have manual distractions that occur when you’re in a hurry or trying to multitask. They might include:

  • Adjusting the radio or temperature controls
  • Grabbing something that fell over
  • Using your smartphone
  • Eating or drinking
  • Applying makeup
  • Smoking

These scenarios can appear harmless in the moment but are all capable of lowering your safety and increasing your likelihood of being involved in an accident. It takes mere seconds for inattention to become dangerous. And no matter how experienced or competent you are behind the wheel, distractions can still affect you.

It’s important to note that accidents aren’t the only potential consequence of distracted driving. There are also laws related to the act that can have you paying a hefty fine. Read on to learn more.

Distracted Driving Laws in New York

New York State Law considers distracted driving a primary offense. This means that it’s sufficient reason for an officer to pull you over. The same is true for most other states. These are the two sections in the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) that apply to the use of electronics such as smartphones while driving:

  • VTL 1225(C) – Using mobile devices
  • VTL 1225(D) – Using portable electronics

Generally speaking, the former law prohibits engaging in phone calls behind the wheel. The latter is more broad, applying to not only texting while driving but also the use of other mobile applications such as email and navigation. Violating either can lead to significant penalties.

For phone calls, the fines are as follows:

  • First offense: Up to $200
  • Second offense: Up to $250
  • Third offense: Up to $450

The penalties for texting are the same and both incur 5 points on your license each time. In addition to these fines, drivers in New York are subject to a surcharge between $88 and $93, depending on where the offense takes place.

Distracted Driving and Insurance

Legal consequences aside, distracted driving can also raise your insurance rates. According to research by CarInsurance.com, you can expect a texting ticket to increase your premiums by 4% to 30%, depending on the insurer. This is because insurance companies regularly check their clients’ driver’s records and adjust their policies accordingly.

Distracted Driving Accidents

What happens if you’re involved in an accident with a distracted driver? It’s crucial to be aware of the correct procedures, as it can mean the difference between dealing with massive bills and receiving the compensation you require to cover medical expenses as well as damage to your car. Here are some basic guidelines to remember:

  • Check for injuries and move away from the scene
  • Call police and ambulance
  • Gather information (insurance, identification, license plates, names, and contact details)
  • Take photos of the scene and save dashcam footage
  • Call an attorney

The last point is particularly important. Without any legal expertise by your side, you may have to deal with the matter yourself, which is unlikely to work in your favor. A reputable attorney will provide the support and guidance you need to receive a fair settlement in the event of a car crash, even if you’re responsible for the incident.

Staying Safe

With our smartphones essentially becoming an extension of our bodies, avoiding them entirely – especially while behind the wheel – can be challenging. This is particularly true among teenagers who are less aware of the seriousness and consequences of distracted driving. Drivers under the age of 20 are statistically the most at risk.

If you have children, now is a good time to discuss the topic with them. Leading by example is the best way to make an impact. Before you head off, make sure to keep the following road safety guidelines on top of mind:

  1. Respond to any urgent phone calls and messages
  2. Ensure that everyone is wearing their seatbelts
  3. Map out your route on the GPS
  4. Finish eating and drinking
  5. Finish applying any makeup
  6. Select your music and temperature in advance
  7. Adjust your mirrors to the correct position
  8. Consider rest stops for longer journeys
  9. Check that you or the driver is in a healthy state of mind

Another important factor is the type of car you or your child are driving. Newer vehicles are better equipped with technologies that prevent distracted driving, such as hands-free media systems and lane departure warning. Making use of apps that block the usage of your phone while the vehicle is moving can also help.

An interesting side note, one Israeli study of 85 adolescents found that those who played their preferred music at top volume made more mistakes when controlling a vehicle. On the other hand, teens that listened to mellow genres like soft jazz made 20% fewer errors and miscalculations. Perhaps it’s time to introduce your child to Beethoven.

Of course, the reality is that distracted driving will continue to prevail on American roads for the foreseeable future. The best anyone can do is to ensure that both they and their loved ones are aware of the problem and are taking the necessary steps to mitigate their risk. This will go a long way in keeping everyone safe and alert.