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Stiffer Distracted Driving Penalties, Higher Fines Now In Effect Across NY

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Higher fines for distracted driving went into effect Friday in New York.

Under the new rules, people who text and drive or drive while talking on a hand-held cellphone will face a $150 maximum fine for a first offense. A second offense within 18 months could cost up to $200 and a third as much as $400.

"Distracted driving has become a frightening epidemic on our roadways, and fines are an important tool to punish and prevent this reckless behavior," 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."

Stiffer Distracted Driving Penalties, Higher Fines Now In Effect Across NY

CBS 2's Lou Young put the new law to the test on Friday, riding in a nondescript police SUV as part of the new unmarked fleet the state cops are using to snag distracted drivers. Within two minutes of his ride along, things started happening.

The first ticket went to  a college student from Massachusetts trying to find her way to New York City.

"I was using my phone for GPS," she tried to tell the trooper.

Later, a 34-year-old man from Stamford, Conn., was pulled over and also offered excuses. And there were many more, Young reported.

The new, stiffer penalties follow other measures taken by New York state to crack down on distracted driving. Last month, the penalties for texting while driving was changed from three to five points on your license. Young drivers are getting special attention.

"The law specifically says if you have a probationary license you're going to be suspended for 60 days," said Maj. Mike Kopy of the New York State Police.

Other motorists appeared to agree with the crackdown.

"That's good because maybe people will stop. Always good toughening the laws," said driver Elin Geppsson.

"I think it might get some people to put the phone down, but then you know there's always going to be those people who are still going to do it and they won't learn their lessons," said another motorist.

Between 2005 and 2011, cellphone-related accidents went up a staggering 143 percent. The harsher fines also come on the heels of stricter penalties aimed at younger drivers that could result in suspension of their probationary licenses.

Cuomo plans to also strengthen Leandra's Law in New York state. The new measure will mean harsher penalties for those who drive drunk with kids in the car.

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