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Tougher Penalties for Talking or Texting While Driving

YNN - Your News Now Albany, NY

“Some people just talk with the phone directly in front of them,” said Trooper Mark O’Donnell. “At stop lights, you see people putting their heads down and they’re texting or e-mailing or answering a text message.”

You see it everywhere.

“They’re out there, they’re talking, they’re holding it up,” said attorney Peter Pullano.

But state lawmakers have cracked down hard on people who talk and drive and those who text and drive. All of July, that’s included a crackdown by State Police, who are looking for violators.

“We had a few cell phones today and a few texting,” said Trooper Alan Horst.

“Texting and driving, talking on the phone without a hands-free device has really become almost an epidemic,” O’Donnell said.

“That guy looked, as if he was looking down, I’m sure he had something in his hand,” Horst said.

The checkpoint was near an I-490 on ramp. It’s just the latest effort following state legislature action which increased fines and other penalties for distracted drivers.

“People are looking at it like it’s no big deal, I was just on the phone, it’s an innocuous crime,” said Pullano.

Pullano says drivers should take the new laws seriously, which also redefine distracted driving.

“It does say if you have to push more than one button to make that call, you’re in violation of the statute, and that’s something everybody’s got to be aware of.”

The veteran lawyer says getting out of tickets won’t be any easier.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more violations, and a lot less mercy in the court when you get one,” Pullano said.

“All the sudden, as soon as they see me they’ll put it right down, and the excuses start flowing,” Horst said.

Horst spent Thursday patrolling local expressways. Unlucky drivers found themselves on the wrong end of the tough new laws.

Laws they say are designed to keep the roads safer.

“We hope it deters the public, but our law enforcement aspect is to go out and educate people about texting and driving, and to enforce the laws vigorously,” O’Donnell said.

For one driver pulled over on 490, talking on his cell phone was only one of his problems.

“You got weed in the truck? If it’s a little bit it’s no big deal.”

Horst says when the driver opened the window, he smelled something.

“He admitted to having a blunt. I found another one in there.”

A ticket for marijuana possession was added to his even more costly ticket for a cell phone violation.

A texting while driving violation now costs five points on your drivers license. That’s more than most speeding tickets.

“It’s not just dangerous to the person who’s texting and driving or talking on the phone, it’s a danger to everyone around them,” O’Donnell said.

Critics, say the increased fines are driven by state budget woes. Those charged with enforcing the tougher cell phone laws say it’s much more than that.

“We hope it deters the public, but our law enforcement aspect is to go out and educate people about texting and driving, and to enforce the laws vigorously,” said O’Donnell.

Peter is a Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, where he practices criminal defense out of the firm’s Rochester office.

Peter came to Tully Rinckey PLLC with over two decades of experience in practicing criminal law. He has handled thousands of criminal cases, including violations, misdemeanors, felonies and appeals. He has primarily represented defendants in felony cases in both state and federal courts. Peter is certified as “learned counsel” in federal court capital cases. Prior to New York State’s abolishment of capital punishment, he was likewise certified to handle death penalty cases in state courts.

On multiple occasions, Peter has won acquittals or verdicts to lesser charges for clients charged with murder. Additionally, he has represented criminal defendants at the appellate level, including the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the third and fourth departments of the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division.

Peter received his juris doctorate from Albany Law School of Union University and his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. His devotion to helping people in need has afforded Peter the Monroe County Bar Association’s Charles Crimi Award and the St. Nicholas Society’s “Man of the Year” Award. He is also the recipient of the Rochester Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” Award.

Peter currently sits on the board of directors of the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar. He has previously served on the board of directors of AIDS Rochester, Inc. He also served as the president of the Saint Nicholas Society (Italian-American Welfare Society in East Rochester) and sits on the Saint Mary's Church Parish Council. When not at work he enjoys participating in fund-raising events, such as the 440-mile AIDS Red Ribbon Ride, the 550-mile Empire State AIDS Ride, and the Tour de Cure to fight Diabetes.

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