From the Capitol / State Sen. Bob Duff
Taking aim at distracted driving
Slightly more than 20 percent of all automotive crashes in 2008 involved some type of distraction. Nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and more than a half million were injured.
Distracted driving occurs when a person engages in non-driving activity that has the potential to distract from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of an accident. It can be visual, like taking your eyes off the road; manual, like taking your hands off the wheel; or cognitive, like taking your mind off what you're doing.
Distracted driving involves the obvious forms, like cell phone use, texting, eating, drinking, talking with passengers and using electronic devices, but also includes less-obvious types of distraction, like daydreaming or dealing with strong emotions.
While all distractions can endanger the safety of all motorists on our roadways, cell phone usage, particularly texting, involves all three forms of distraction -- visual, manual and cognitive -- making it particularly alarming and problematic for new and experienced drivers alike.
In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers who use handheld devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. At any given moment during daylight hours, more than 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone.
Distracted driving is not governed by federal law and falls under the jurisdiction of the individual states. Since 2005, Connecticut has had a handheld cell phone ban for motorists operating a vehicle on our roads and highways and is one of eight states, plus the District of Columbia, to enact such a ban.
This year, we went a step further and put a texting ban in place as well. Our ban specifies that it is illegal for a driver to type, send or read text messages on a handheld cell phone or a mobile electronic device while operating a moving vehicle. Connecticut is now one of 32 states, territories and districts to have a ban on texting on the books.
We also strengthened our existing hands-free cell phone law by increasing the fines for violation to $100 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense and $200 for subsequent violations. Additionally, the requirement that a judge suspend the fine for a first-time offender who acquires a hands-free accessory before the fine is imposed has been eliminated from our law, meaning that all convicted offenders will receive a fine.
Finally, the state will now remit 25 percent of the amount it receives from a cell phone or mobile electronic device use fine to the municipality that issues the summons -- offering local law enforcement, cities and towns greater incentive to fully enforce the law.
The law does not apply to emergency situations in which police officers, firefighters, ambulance and emergency drivers or members of the military are performing their official duties.
It is our hope that with increased incentive for local enforcement as well as the deterrent of higher fines, these bans will help to curb this dangerous behavior and prevent the kinds of tragic accidents that distracted driving can lead to.
For more information on distracted driving, please visit www.distraction.gov.