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Officials move to put stop to distracted driving in Nassau County

Nassau County police Commissioner Patrick Ryder announces the police department’s enforcement of distracted driving laws on Nassau roads to help keep travelers safe. Credit: James Carbone

Nassau County officials want drivers to keep their eyes on the road and are mounting a countywide enforcement campaign in April — Distracted Driving Awareness month in the United States.

County Executive Laura Curran and police Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder want drivers to know officers are targeting cellphone users, texters and other distracted driving violators — all in an effort to keep area roads safe.

The campaign was announced Wednesday at a news conference with Curran, Ryder and Nassau Highway Patrol officers on the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway in Jericho. It is being run in conjunction with the national campaign, sponsored by NHTSA — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the latest figures available, NHTSA said distracted driving killed 3,142 people in 2019. That's a 10% increase over 2018.

And, NHTSA said, while drivers ages 16-24 were the biggest users of handheld devices between 2007-17, "It isn't just young people who are driving distracted, since drivers in other age groups don't lag far behind."

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles defines illegal activity related to distracted driving to include: talking on a handheld mobile telephone; composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving electronic data such as email, text messages or webpages; viewing, taking or transmitting images; and playing games. Distracted driving also includes drowsy driving or other activities that cause inattention to "the forward roadway."

Fines for a first offense in New York state range from $50 to $200, while a second offense within 18 months is from $50 to $250, with a third or additional offenses range from $50 to $450. A maximum $93 surcharge per offense also can be charged, according to state Vehicle and Traffic Law.

In Nassau, the penalty for first offense is $200, plus an $88 surcharge, officials said.

Drivers also receive 5 points on their license for cellphone violations and 5 points for texting violations under state law.

In some cases, as with a learner's permit, probationary license or even some commercial licenses, a violation can result in license suspension or revocation.

A "Know the Facts" post on the NHTSA webpage said looking away from the road for two or more seconds doubled the risk of a crash, while driver inattention due to drowsiness could increase the risk "by at least four times." A driver engaged in a secondary task, any action that takes attention away from the road, can increase the risk of a crash, NHTSA said. Using a handheld device, operating a PDA, reading, changing radio stations or a compact disc, applying makeup, eating, texting all can increase the risk of a crash by 2-3 times.

Studies have found, NHTSA said, that in recent years almost 80% of all crashes — and 65% of near-crashes — are the result of a driver "looking away from the forward roadway" just before a crash.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced State Police would take part in the distracted driving campaign and step up patrols April 8-12.

"As we saw with the tragic death of Trooper Joe Gallagher, distracted driving can have deadly consequences, and it will not be tolerated in the State of New York," Cuomo said in a statement.

Gallagher died last month. A married father of two, he suffered a traumatic brain injury on Dec. 18, 2017, when a texting driver struck his patrol vehicle while the 38-year-old trooper assisted a driver on the Long Island Expressway in Commack.

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