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Tickets for texting while driving are rising, but convictions lag

Texting while driving is illegal in New York, but drivers who are ticketed may not be punished for their violation. Since 2009 just 44 percent of the tickets issued have led to convictions. The issue has caught the attention of public safety officials as the dangers of distracted driving have become clear.

Public safety officials say that the lower number of convictions happens because court cases are backlogged, it can be difficult to prove a driver was texting and charges can often be reduced. But the number of convictions is increasing. In 2012, 66 percent of tickets for texting while driving resulted in convictions.

Some prosecutors said they were offering less leniency on the tickets. One county stopped allowing drivers with tickets for texting while driving into a diversion program that allows drivers to have a charge dismissed if they take a safety course and pay fines. In another county, judges said they had stopped allowing plea bargains for texting while driving.

Recently, the governor implemented more stringent consequences for distracted driving. Those convicted of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving will receive a five-point penalty on their license. Previously, the penalty was three points.

New legislation will also strengthen the restrictions on younger drivers. Drivers with probationary or -junior licenses who text behind the wheel could receive a 60-day suspension. A spokesman for the governor says the goal is to help newer drivers - who are at greater risk of accidents - to develop safer driving habits and to prevent car accidents caused by texting while driving.

Source: WGRZ, "Despite Increased Fines, Texting Convictions Lag in NY," Joseph Spector, June 10, 2013.

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