New York State Associates Now Have Good Reason To Ignore Their Blackberries

Vacations are rare if not impossible to take as a first-year associate. The hours are grueling and long, and the Blackberry bestowed each new bar-card carrier is less a perk of the job and more its albatross.

Like an emergency room doctor, lawyers answer their phones rain or shine. And when the partner calls, less senior associates must drop what they’re doing and report to the office. Mother’s birthday? She will have one next year. Daughter’s soccer game? If it’s not the championships, the game’s hardly worth watching anyway. But, at least for attorneys in New York, now there’s an acceptable reason to let your Blackberry Bold go to voicemail—driving.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that he plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit drivers from using any electronic instrument while driving. This month, the New York State Senate of legislation already passed laws restricting texting while driving. Governor Cuomo would like to extend the restrictions to all portable electronic devises—mp3 players or iPads, for example.

Today, the fine in New York for a driver using a handheld phone as opposed to using a hands-free devise amounts to as much as $150. But, Governor Cuomo would like to see even this stiff penalty increase.   

“Distracted driving is nothing less than a lethal activity for the driver themselves, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Current warnings, educational programs, and driving laws aren’t working. We need to impose a true deterrent to stop people from driving while using an electronic device and to keep our roads and citizens safe.” [Law Blog, Wall Street Journal 6/10/11]

Governor Cuomo would also like to make the use of an electronic devise while driving a primary offense (meaning no other traffic offence is needed for a police officer to pull over a driver). And, he would like to add “distracted driving” to the defensive driving curriculum in New York State.

So, if you’re wondering if “I couldn’t answer my phone because I was driving” is a legitimate excuse for the state in which you practice law, consult the Governors Highway Safety Association’s chart. The matrix outlines which states consider driving with a handheld cell phone or texting while driving a primary offense and which consider it a secondary one.

No state bans all cell phone use—both handheld and hands-free—for all drivers. However, many states restrict all cell phone use by certain drivers, such as novice drivers (30 states and D.C.) or school bus drivers (19 states and D.C.). Thirty-three states, D.C., and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, and twenty-nine of these states, plus D.C. and Guam, consider it a primary offense.

Ergo, resist the temptation to answer texts, emails, or phone calls from the boss’s line while driving home. It may not get you out of a traffic jam, but leaving your phone in the back seat while driving should serve as a legal and defensible explanation for any sort of gridlock at the office.



To read Governor Cuomo’s statement regarding his plans for distracted drivers, click here.


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