Previously, we began looking at the topic of distracted driving, and specifically the challenges officers face in enforcing distracted driving laws. These challenges have not, however, stopped authorities from aggressive, ongoing efforts to enforce these laws. Of the 15,000 tickets written in the recent five-day sweep we mentioned last time, around 2,000 were for distracted driving.
Certainly, distracted driving is a problem and there need to be efforts to fight against it. On the other hand, it is also important that enforcement efforts be fair to motorists. Sometimes, in attempting to aggressively fight and enforce laws against distracted driving, authorities issue distracted driving tickets unfairly.
Defending against distracted driving tickets requires an accurate understanding state law and making a strong effort to ensure that the exact language of the law is applied in the circumstances of each case. Depending on the exact language of the statute, an officer may or may not have been justified in issuing a ticket for distracted driving.
New York law prohibits drivers, first of all, from using a mobile phone to engage in a call while their vehicle is in motion. For commercial vehicle drivers, the rules are stricter: they may not engage in calls even while the commercial vehicle is temporarily stationary on a public highway because of traffic delays, stop lights, or during other momentary delays. Momentarily stopping at the side of a public highway in a place that is otherwise lawful to stop at is, however, an exception to the rule.
The legal presumption is that any driver who holds a mobile telephone to or near his or her ear while the vehicle is in motion is engaging in an illegal call, and this presumption applies to commercial vehicle drivers as well, unless they are lawfully parked on the side of, or off, a public highway or in some other spot where they may legally park momentarily. This presumption is an important issue, because it puts the burden on the driver to show that they were not engaging in an illegal call if all the other prohibited conditions were present.
Exceptions to the above rules are: engaging in a call with a cell phone in emergency situations; use of a cell phone to engage in a call by police officers, firefighters, and emergency vehicle drivers; and the use of hands-free telephones. In addition, the law prohibits motor carrier companies from requiring their drivers to use hand-held mobile telephones while driving.
In our next post, we’ll look briefly at New York’s law concerning use of portable electronic devices, and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney when defending against citations under these laws.