Lawmakers Hear Pitch To Raise Fines, Suspend Licenses Of Distracted Drivers
Feb 05, 2013 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
After her boyfriend was killed by a teenaged motorist using a smartphone while behind the wheel, Dawn Jeffrey of Norwalk concluded that distracted motorists are as dangerous as drunken ones.
"Distracted driving has become an acceptable form of behavior in our world of multi-tasking," Jeffrey told legislators Monday. "I have become an advocate that no call or text is worth it. Ken's death was preventable -- it was unnecessary and it was devastating to all that knew him."
Lawmakers are considering getting even tougher on drivers who text or use handheld phones while driving.
Various proposals would raise fines to as high as $200 for the first offense, $300 for the second and $500 for the third. Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, wants to go even further by suspending licenses -- 48 hours for second offenders, and 30 days for third offenders.
Testifying at a transportation committee hearing, Jeffrey said any of those measures would help. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Dorsey, was hit by an SUV while jogging on a Saturday morning last spring. Norwalk police concluded the 16-year-old driver had been using her iPhone to reach the web page of her high school just before hitting Dorsey.
"She had previously been talking on her phone for six minutes and 15 seconds to her mother. She didn't even see Ken and was unable to apply the brakes," Jeffrey testified. "In a matter of seconds two sets of families would never be the same again."
Connecticut has some of the harshest penalties for distracted driving in the country. Fines are $125, $250 and $400 for first, second and third offenses. Drivers 18 and older may use hands-free devices for phone calls, but younger ones may not.
Jeffrey suggested raising penalties and using some of the money to pay for public service campaigns about dangers of inattentive driving. And she urged any skeptical legislators to keep an eye out for distracted motorists the next time they're on the road.
"I dare any one of you to drive for more than five minutes without seeing someone on their phone," Jeffrey said.
"This is a serious epidemic we're facing. This will be a focus for us, I promise you," said Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, committee co-chairman. "We see it every day -- people aren't driving, they're texting. They're downright not looking."
Some lawmakers aren't convinced that raising fines is the answer. Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, cautioned that it could backfire.
"The law enforcement people I've been speaking to will not enforce that at $500. There's another thought process -- if fines were smaller, they'd be more apt to be issued," Mikutel said.
Guerrera acknowledged that stepping up enforcement of the existing law is important. Municipal police in Connecticut issued 24,052 tickets for cell phone violations last year, down from 34,175 in 2011, transportation department figures show.
"Whether we raise fines or do [insurance] points, there has to be enforcement," Guerrera said.
The Department of Transportation was recently awarded a $275,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct a high-visibility enforcement campaign in the Danbury region. The money will pay for teams of police on overtime to crack down on texting and dialing drivers.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said his agency continues seeking grants to fund more initiatives, and would like to acquire a distracted-driving simulator, similar to drunken-driving simulators that can be used for young or new drivers.
"I would like one day for the reaction to someone using their phone while driving to be the same as if one saw someone drinking a bottle of tequila behind the wheel of a car," Jeffrey testified.
___ (c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Visit The Hartford Courant
(Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]