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New York tickets 118,000 drivers under cellphone law

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police in New York state have ticketed more than 118,000 motorists for using cellphones behind the wheel since a strict new law took effect in July, the governor who signed the law said on Monday.

Ticketing rates for texting while driving have more than doubled since then, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Texting and other handheld cellphone use is blamed for the deaths of more than 5,000 people and injuries to more than 440,000 people nationwide each year, said Barbara Fiala, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

New York's new law made using any kind of electronic handheld device while driving a primary offense, meaning police can pull over drivers for that reason alone.

Previously, police could only issue cellphone use tickets after stopping drivers for some other reason, such as a broken taillight, making it a secondary offense.

As a result, the number of people ticketed for texting while driving has more than doubled. Between January 1 and July 11, 2011, police gave out 2,691 tickets to drivers who were sending text messages. Since July 12, they have issued 7,495 such tickets, the governor said.

In the months after the law was toughened, police issued 111,262 tickets to drivers using handheld devices in some way besides texting.

"These tickets should send a resounding message to all drivers: keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel," Cuomo said in a statement.

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta)

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