Cell Phone Tickets

Cell phone tickets have quickly become one of the most issued tickets by police in New York State.  The cell phone law first came into existence in 2001 and at that time did not carry any points.  As more and more tickets were written for cell phone violations, New York eventually attached 2 points to every cell phone conviction.  Shortly after making cell phone violations a 2 point violation, they were changed to a 3 point violation. As of 6/1/13, after yet another point increase, NY cell phone violations and the closely related violation of using a portable electronic device carry 5 (FIVE) points on a New York record if convicted. Cell phones have become a fact of modern life and we can’t imagine our lives without them.  The ubiquity of cell phones in our daily lives comes into conflict with New York State law when we use our phone and operate our motor vehicles.  Motorists may have what they believe is an understanding of the law and then are incredulous when they receive a summons for what they thought was acceptable behaviour. At Feifer & Greenberg, we answer calls from motorists every day who have been issued a summons for using their cell phone and are confused about the law.

First and foremost the New York cell phone law prohibits using a cell phone while the users vehicle is in motion.  “Using” means holding the telephone in the immediate proximity of one’s ear.  This essentially means that technically you should be able to use some type of hands-free device with your cell phone and not run afoul of New York cell phone laws.  Practically speaking, the police are writing tickets for cell phone violations even if they think they see a cell phone near your head.  Police departments around New York State have made enforcement of the cell phone laws a priority and as a result hundreds of thousands of these summons are being written every year.  Some of these tickets are justified.  A lot of them are not.  We talk with motorists each and every day who swear to us that they are not guilty.  There is no question from our perspective that the police have become overzealous in their quest to write this violation.  Common statements from our clients include;

  • I was using a blue tooth and just picked up the phone to turn it off,
  • I was using a speakerphone,
  • I was holding my wallet and the cop thought it was cell phone.

It is entirely permissible under the law to pick up your phone to turn it on or shut it off.  It is also entirely permissible to use the speakerphone.  And yes, overeager officers will write you up if they think you are holding something that looks like a cell phone.The easiest way to avoid getting a ticket for using a cell phone is by not talking on the phone while you are driving.  This is not a practical option for most people and as discussed it IS permissible to use a cell phone under limited conditions.  While you may be technically in the right and truly have not broken the letter of the law, if a cop writes up this ticket for you they are going to testify that you were using your phone illegally. The abuses we see in the issuance of cell phone tickets are just another reason why effective counsel is the best defense a motorist can have.