Thiele: Final State Budget To Include Harsher Penalties For Distracted Drivers

Efforts Align with Recommendations of South Fork Highway Safety Roundtable

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I, D, WF-Sag Harbor) today announced that while lawmakers must still vote to approve the 2013-2014 Final State Budget, the current budget incorporates tougher distracted driving fines, including an increased fine for those talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device.

Under the current law, drivers who talk on a cellphone while driving without a hands-free device face a $100 fine. That penalty would be bumped up to $150. The stricter measures are also designed to punish repeat offenders, whether they are texting while driving or using a cell phone without a hands-free device.

The new maximum fines are:

*1st offense: $150 maximum fine

*2nd offense within 18 months: $200 maximum fine

*3 or more offenses within 18 months: $400 maximum fine

The budget proposal also includes harsher penalties for commercial drivers. The new regulations would prohibit commercial drivers from using hand-held electronic devices and talking on a non hands-free cellphone while stopped at traffic light or in a traffic jam.

Assemblyman Thiele stated, “Plain and simple, distracted drivers are a danger to themselves, their passengers, other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. As soon as you take your eyes off the road, you can very quickly and easily lose control over a situation. By increasing the fines, we are sending a message loud and clear that New York State will not tolerate distracted driving.”

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman who authored Suffolk’s legislation banning texting while driving noted, “In a recent study, 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 admitted to talking on cell phones while driving during the past 30 days and about 30 percent said they had sent text messages while behind the wheel. By strengthening the penalties, New York State is now sending these drivers an important message - Distracted driving will not be tolerated.”

These new proposed penalties are recommendations which have been identified by the South Fork Highway Safety Roundtable as a way to make East End roads safer. The South Fork Highway Safety Roundtable, created by Assemblyman Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle, was initiated in October of 2012 in response to an increase in fatal accidents on the South Fork during the summer of 2012. Since then, the Roundtables three workgroups, Engineering, Education and Enforcement, have been meeting to discuss new plans, policies, and programs that should be instituted. Participants include roadway engineers and safety officers, police, emergency responders, educators, and elected officials.