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      Distracted drivers to face increased penalties

      The next time you get behind the wheel, make sure you're focused on the road. On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced increased fines for distracted driving, including texting while driving or talking while on the cell phone.

      For a first offense, you can now face a fine of $50 to $150. For a second offense committed within 18 months, the fine is $50 to $200. For a third or subsequent offense committed within 18 months, you will face a fine of $50 to $400. "Distracted driving has become a frightening epidemic on our roadways, and fines are an important tool to punish and prevent this reckless behavior," Governor Cuomo said. "Combined with stronger penalties on your license and increased enforcement, these increased fines will send a tough message to all drivers that distracted driving is a serious problem with serious consequences. Using a multi-pronged approach to combat this dangerous habit will make drivers think twice before using their cell phones behind the wheel. As New York's law enforcement patrols our highways and roads this summer, we are warning drivers: don't text-and-drive or you will pay for it."

      This is part of a major crackdown on distracted driving around the state. In June, the DMV increased the number of points earned against an individual's driving record upon conviction for texting-while-driving and cell-phone related infractions from three points to five points. Earlier this month, new penalties were announced for distracted driving for young and new drivers. The law imposes the same penalties on drivers with probationary and junior licenses for texting-while-driving and using a hand-held cell phone that they had received for speeding and reckless driving: 60-day suspensions for first convictions and revocations of 60 days (for junior licenses) or 6 months (for probationary licenses) for subsequent convictions within 6 months of the time a license is restored after suspension.

      New York State Police have launched a $1 million effort to crack down on distracted driving. The effort consists of significantly increased enforcement and patrols, particularly through undercover operations using unmarked State Police SUVs to catch irresponsible drivers.