SYOSSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Traffic is back.
After a coronavirus pandemic lull, our roads are as busy as ever, and officials Wednesday kicked off a campaign on Long Island to curb dangerous distracted driving that's apparently worse than ever, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.
Nassau County police have been out in force all month pulling over distracted drivers, including an emotional Ida Gress of Wantagh, who explained that she was taking an emergency medical call from her brother, but added she understands the law.
"I just put him on speaker and I kept driving and he caught me," Gress said.
The law is clear. Drivers cannot hold a phone to talk or text while behind the wheel, including at a red light.
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Nassau police suspect distracted driving in three fatal crashes over the last three weeks, and on Wednesday state police laid to rest Trooper Joseph Gallagher, who was hit by a distracted driver texting and using social media. County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said it's a deadly habit that kills.
"Picking up this phone, one, two, you just went 50 yards in two seconds at 55 mph. Two seconds, you go a half a football field," Ryder said.
Officials warn the pandemic is making it worse because there is more local driving due to people working from home. There are also more trucks with deliveries and more people are buying cars. On Long Island, there are more than 120,000 extra cars on the road since 2019.
"I think people are not comfortable with mass transit and there is a love affair with the automobile on Long Island and people are working from home, so they are doing shorter trips to and from throughout the day," said Marc Herbst of the Long Island Contractors' Association.
And there are more distractions, said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a working mom.
"Especially us parents ... People are overly more reliant than they used to be on that phone and when there's that work call coming or that text that has to be returned, that puts a lot of pressure on people," Curran said.
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Gress said she was grateful to be given just a warning and has one for fellow drivers.
"It's for the benefit of the people to avoid having any accidents," Gress said.
The penalty for distracted driving is $376 and five points on your license, which results in higher insurance premiums for years.
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