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N.Y. Using 'Special' SUVs to Spot Texting Drivers

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Texting drivers in New York will soon feel the gaze of law enforcement more intensely. Or at least from a higher angle, anyway. Officers are using undercover state police cars that are designed to sit higher than normal SUVs, so they can catch you fiddling with your phone.

In stealth mode via unmarked cars, officers creep up on unsuspecting texting drivers and then pounce on them to bring their distracted driving to a screeching halt.

But is this use of "special" unmarked police cars legal?

Texting-While-Driving Crackdown

Deploying the fleet of slightly elevated SUVs is part of a statewide summer crackdown on texting drivers, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told ABC News. The enforcement effort began July 4 and is part of a $1 million program announced Tuesday in Buffalo.

The "special" anti-texting state police SUVs are called Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) vehicles. They're unmarked and come in a variety of colors to ensure they blend in with traffic on the road.

That might be surprising to some, as the use of unmarked police cars was once prohibited in New York state. But that's no longer the case.

Previous Restrictions

Back in 1996, then-Gov. George Pataki signed an executive order barring unmarked police cars from being used in routine traffic stops. Pataki's order came about after a rash of "blue light" attacks -- cases of criminals posing as policemen in unmarked cars.

But Gov. Cuomo has repealed nearly all prior governors' executive orders, including Pataki's order against the use of unmarked police cars in traffic stops. So officers are legally allowed to use unmarked police cars for a range of traffic law enforcement purposes.

It should be noted, however, that laws in some other states such as Ohio require law-enforcement vehicles to be "marked in some distinctive manner" and equipped with at least one "colored light mounted outside on top of the vehicle."

Uses for Texting and Driving Law Enforcement

Aside from traffic violations, unmarked cars are often also used to stop drivers suspected of criminal violations or whose behaviors present a clear threat to public safety.

New York's texting-while-driving surveillance effort fulfills both of those purposes as a traffic enforcement operation designed to combat drivers who are comprising public safety, one Emoji at a time.

So think twice before you sext your lover at a red light, because the police might be watching you -- without you even knowing it. (Awkward!)

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