Last updated: September 18, 2015
Texting, cell phone news: At least a half dozen distracted driving bills are before the General Assembly in 2015. The proposals include increases in the fines for texting; manslaughter charges for distracted drivers who kill; a GPS exemption for novice drivers; and a ban on driving with pets on your lap.
Transportation Committee co-chairman Rep. Tony Guerrera cited “frustration” over texting & driving in Connecticut, which he describes as an “epidemic.” His panel heard testimony Feb. 9 on several of the distracted driving bills, but took no action. State Rep. Melissa Ziobron, sponsor of HB 5382, noted that there is “no penalty beyond a fine for multiple offenses of texting while driving.” Guerrera said he was unsure anything would be done this session.
A 2014 Connecticut law seeks to protect “vulnerable users” of roads with fine of up to $1,000 for drivers who fail “to exercise reasonable care” while causing death or serious injury. The legislation was inspired by 2012 death of a Norwalk jogger who was struck by a teen using her cell phone.
Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the pedestrian-protection law into effect in mid-May. The mother of the late Kenneth Dorsey is pushing for federal-level laws that would disable cell phones in moving vehicles.
- Texting outlawed for all drivers.
- Adult drivers (18 and older) must use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones or using a “mobile electronic device.”
- Minors are prohibited from using wireless phones or other mobile electronic device while driving — with or without hands-free devices. Possible license suspension.
- School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving.
- Use of video game players and DVD players banned for drivers.
Read the Connecticut handheld mobile phone law.
Electronic distracted driving is a moving violation, with fines topping out at $500. The law allows reporting of distracted driving offenses to insurance companies, meaning higher premiums for violators.
Fines for texting & using handheld cell phones in Connecticut:
- $150 (first offense)
- $300 (second)
- $500 (third or subsequent)
Distracted driving legislation (2015):
HB 5382: Would apply penalties for driving under the influence to texting while driving. (Ziobron)
HB 5539: Would double fines for texting while driving. (Nicastro)
HB 5634: Would increase fines by $100 for using a handheld cell phone or other mobile electronic device while driving. (Perillo)
HB 6324: Would apply second-degree manslaughter charges to causing a death while using a handheld cell phone. (Cuevas)
HB 6501: Would exempt basic GPS use from mobile-device restrictions on novice drivers (16-, 17-year-olds). Seeks to protect “lost youthful drivers.” Handheld uses such as programming still banned. (Bolinsky)
Senate Bill 518: Would bar drivers from having pets in their laps. (Doyle)
Distracted driving notes (2015):
Rep. Frank Nicastro said he filed his plan to hike fines for texting & driving after meeting a constituent who lost her son in a texting-related crash. “People have to understand there are consequences for actions,” he says.
Transportation Committee co-chairman Rep. Tony Guerrera says his panel “has tried to do as much as possible” about distracted driving, but “we see it every day.” He told a Feb. 9 hearing that laws didn’t achieve much if they weren’t enforced. He said he hopes the auto industry will use technology to combat the problem.
2014 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 336: Seeks to protect “vulnerable users” of roads with fine of $1,000 for drivers who fail “to exercise reasonable care” and cause death or injury. Inspired by 2012 death of jogger struck by teen using cell phone. Approved by the Senate on April 24. Approved by the House on May 1. Signed into law by governor May 16. (Transportation Committee)
2013 distracted driving notes:
Many police aren’t writing tickets that would carry fines for multiple violations of Connecticut’s distracted driving laws because their vehicles don’t have the technology to identify serial offenders, media reports say.
Police must have dispatchers check to see if a violator has a previous conviction for texting & driving or use of handheld cell phones. “You can’t do it on every stop. It’s just not practical,” a police spokesman told the Journal Inquirer in mid-November. Still, the number of tickets issued for multiple violations already has topped 2012’s total.
The intent of the tougher distracted driving law is to make sure violators “get hit in the pocketbook,” one lawmaker said during House Bill 6033’s passage in 2013. Insurance companies presumably would increase drivers’ premiums for the moving violations.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 6033: Would increase fines for electronic distracted driving to $150 (first offense), $300 (second) and $500 (third or subsequent). One point against driver’s license and entry of violation on driver’s record, making it available to insurance companies. Approved (and created) by the Transportation Committee in a 32-2 vote of March 15. OK’d by the Finance Committee in a 48-1 vote of April 12. Approved by the House in a 139-1 vote of May 30. Approved by the Senate in a 26-9 vote of June 5. Public Act 13-271. Signed into law by the governor July 11. Takes effect Oct. 1, 2013. (Transportation Committee)
HB 5248: Would increase fines for distracted driving violations to $150 (first offense), $400 (second) and $500 (third or subsequent). Current fines, before court costs, are $100/$150/$200. In Transportation Committee. (Camillo)
HB 5545: Would increase fines for illegal use of a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle to $200 (first offense), $300 (second) and $500 (third or subsequent). (Perillo)
HB 5550: Seeks license suspensions for repeat violators of texting & cell phone driving laws. Second offense, 48 hours. Third and subsequent, 30 days. (Bolinsky)
Senate Bill 191: Calls for fines of up to $1,000 for a careless driver who causes injury or death to a “vulnerable user of a public way” such as bicyclists, horseback riders, workers, pedestrians, skateboarders. Bill inspired by death of a jogger hit by a driver reading a Web site. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on May 8. Approved by the Senate in a unanimous vote of May 30. To the House. (Bye)
SB 316: Requires the commissioner of Consumer Protection to develop a set of best practices for use of cell phones. Approved by a series of committees, including Public Health, and up for a full Senate vote.
SB 637: Would allow municipalities to use traffic enforcement photographers to catch violators of the texting & handheld cell phone driving laws. (Cassano)
SB 697: Would require insurance companies to offer discounts to drivers who download an application that disables a cell phone’s ability to send or receive text messages when the device is traveling faster than 10 miles per hour. (Slossberg)
Distracted driving notes (2013):
The total number of distracted driving tickets looks to be down in 2013, compared with the high of 2011. As of September, police had issued 26,869 tickets. In 2011, the number was 38,556; in 2012, 30,109.
Police issued 721 tickets for second offenses under the Connecticut distracted driving laws so far in 2013 (as of September). There were 690 in 2012, the AP reported. Citations for third offenses were up as well, with 142 in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 128 in 2012.
Gov. Daniel Malloy proclaimed Sept. 19 as “Don’t Text and Drive Day in Connecticut.” In July, the governor signed off on the General Assembly’s plan to increase fines for distracted driving. The Transportation Committee’s plan (under House Bill 6033) allows reporting of distracted driving offenses to insurance companies, meaning higher premiums for violators.
At least seven distracted driving bills were before the General Assembly in 2013.
Lawmakers say the threat of higher insurance premiums should deter the many drivers who violate Connecticut’s longstanding distracted driving law. “When someone gets hit in the pocketbook, that’s when you remember it,” said state Rep. Antonio “Tony” Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee. “That’s the key here, I think, to end up having some type of reporting system on that.” Currently, no record exists of distracted driving citation after they’re paid.
The Senate, meanwhile, approved a bill calling for $1,000 fines against careless drivers who hurt “vulnerable users of a public way,” such as pedestrians and bicycle riders. The bill was inspired by the death of a Norwalk jogger at the hands of a driver using a smartphone. It did not advance in the House, however.
State Rep. Fred Camillo is an unabashed hardliner on distracted driving. If House Bill 5248 — his plan to increase fines for talking & texting — clears the General Assembly this year, he says he’ll be back with a stricter proposal next session. He told the Greenwich Patch he likes the idea of “an automatic tow or an automatic suspension of your license. … So that people know, ‘God if I even look at a cell phone I will lose my license and get a ticket.’ ”
Camillo, R-151, was inspired to file his 2013 distracted driving bill after talking with a Norwalk woman whose boyfriend was killed by a driver allegedly checking her high school web site.
His House Bill 5248 would increase fines for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving to $150, from $100. Second offenses would be $300, doubled from $150. Subsequent violations would bring a $400 fine, also doubled.
2012 distracted driving notes:
In 2012, police in Connecticut issued 29,435 tickets for use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
Connecticut will crack down on texting & driving with the help of federal funds for “high-visibility enforcement programs.”
Most of the money will be used to develop methods of catching drivers in violation of the texting ban. These efforts will be documented for the benefit of other states, the NHTSA said Oct. 16 in announcing the $275,000 grant. Texting & driving sweeps will be conducted at least four times in the next two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Techniques may include stationary and roving patrols, and the use of “spotters on overpasses on elevated roadways.” Massachusetts also received a grant.
A Barnsfield man who was text messaging while driving was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for a wreck that left a teen with severe brain damage. Prosecutors were successful in asking for the maximum sentence. Chad Belleville was convicted of second-degree assault July 31.
The prosecutor had this to say to the judge: “If drivers choose to disregard (the risk of distracted driving) … those drivers will be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.” The driver, Chad Belleville of Brandstead, received the maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison. The teen has not spoken since the 2010 accident, the Concord Monitor reported Aug. 1.
A study of distracted driving enforcement shows that men received the majority of tickets since Connecticut’s law went into effect in 2006. The AP reported that male drivers received up to 54 percent of the citations for texting and cell phone use. In 2011, men were hit with 16,000 tickets while women received 13,690.
Greenwich, a town on the New York border, is a hotbed of distracted driving activity, police say. “We’re seeing a huge increase in texting and driving,” a police spokesman said in mid-February.
2011 distracted driving legislation:
HB 6581 (aka Public Act No. 11-213): Sweeping changes to the state’s DMV regulations. Section on handheld cell phones and text messaging increases fines to $100, then $150 and then $200. Makes text messaging a major offense for commercial vehicle operators. Minor adjustments to distracted driving wording. Approved by the House on June 1 and by the Senate on June 8. Sent to the secretary of state on June 30, and took effect July 1, 2011.
HB 6366: Would require law officers writing a summons under electronic distracted driving laws to seize and suspend driver’s license for 24-hour period, if there is a previous conviction. Increases penalties for second and subsequent violations to up to $500 plus possibility of three months’ imprisonment. First offense fines remain at $100. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Joint Committee on Judiciary in a 23-20 vote on April 14. (Judiciary Committee)
HB 6119: Would make the second offense of illegal use of a hand-held mobile electronic device by a driver a misdemeanor. Police shall be empowered to take possession of violators’ license for a period of 24 hours. Latest legislative action: Approved March 18 by the Transportation Committee, which bundled this and other DMV-related bills in HB 6581. (Hetherington)
House Bill 6057: Drivers convicted of a second violation of driving while using a hand-held mobile telephone or mobile electronic device would be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor. Possible imprisonment. (Tong)
HB 6138: Would allow for felony charges against a driver who causes a death or serious body injury while using a cell phone or texting. Also mandates a minimum six-month license suspension for second convictions under existing handheld cell phone/text messaging laws. (Miller)
HB 6145: Seeks felony charges against any driver who causes an accident while using a cell phone or texting. Also calls for a minimum six-month license suspension for second convictions under existing handheld cell phone/text messaging laws. (Miller)
HB 6211: Would make fines for violations of the handheld cell phone and texting laws uniform: $100 (first offense), then $150 (second) and $200 (all subsequent). Teen drivers and school bus drivers currently receive fines of $100, while the above fines apply to all other drivers. (Transportation Committee)
HB 6213: Would increase all fines for violations of handheld cell phone law by $100 — to $200/$250/$300. (Perillo)
HB 6570: Specifies that commercial vehicle drivers may not text while driving. Infractions would be classified as “serious traffic violations.” Purpose is “to comply with federal law prohibiting texting while operating a commercial motor vehicle.” (DMV via Transportation Committee)
Senate Bill 111: Would double fines for electronic distracted driving in school zones and construction zones. (Witkos)
SB 471: Would require police to impound wireless communications devices for 48 hours after issuing a summons for electronic distracted driving. See SB 961, below. (Doyle)
SB 961: Would require police to impound wireless communications devices for 48 hours after issuing a summons under Connecticut’s distracted driving laws. See SB 961, above. (Judiciary Committee)
2011 distracted driving notes:
HB 6366 was approved, narrowly, by the Judiciary Committee on April 14. The panel decided to reword the bill so that police “may” impound repeat offenders’ drivers licenses — instead of “shall.” Rep. John W. Hetherington said the legislation that he proposed included the seizures so that, “If you violate the law, you take some risk and that might include a severe sanction.” Hetherington, R-New Canaan, is the ranking member of the committee.
Reps. William Tong and John Hetherington, who both represent New Canaan, are co-sponsors of each other’s distracted driving bills (above).
Law enforcement officers in Hartford conducted their final sweep of cell phone and texting violators, a crackdown that ran through March 4. The federal Department of Transportation funded the pilot campaign, which began in spring 2010 in Hartford and Syracuse, N.Y. In the “Phone in one hand. Ticket in the other” campaign’s three previous sweeps, 7,200 tickets were handed out in Hartford.
The town of New Canaan is fed up with distracted drivers. Local officials and police are studying the possibility of confiscating handheld cell phones from violators of the state law. Police stopped more than 150 motorists for talking on their cell phones between June and September 2010, as part of a local campaign against distracted drivers.
2010 distracted driving legislation:
SB 427: Seeks to eliminate the state’s 2005 cell phone law’s one-time forgiveness policy for violators who then buy hands-free accessories. Mandates first-offense tickets of $100, then $150 and $200. Wording specifically bans text messaging while driving. Allocates 25 percent of fine money to municipalities. Approved by the full Senate on May 3 (in a 32-1 vote) and then by the House on May 5. Signed into law by the governor on June 3. (Transportation Committee)
Senate Bill 35: Gov. M. Jodie Rell has submitted distracted driving legislation that would toughen the existing law against driving while using a handheld cell phone. Rell seeks to eliminate the 2005 law’s one-time forgiveness policy for violators who then buy hands-free accessories. Instead of the current $100 fine (subject to forgiveness), there would be a straight $50 fine until October 2011, and then a $100 fine. Fines of $500 would apply when accidents are caused by drivers using handheld cell phones or texting devices. Set aside in favor of the similar SB 427 (above), which cleared the legislature on May 5. (“Governor’s Bill”)
2010 distracted driving legislation notes
Gov. Jodi Rell said as she signed SB 427 into law: “Five years ago, Connecticut became one of the first states in the nation to fight back against these totally preventable crashes. Now it is time to bolster that law. Frankly, after five years it is time to eliminate that ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ provision.”
Connecticut had 41,000 cellphone violations in 2008 and a similar number in 2009. 14,500 distracted drivers got off with a warning in 2008.
A distracted driving sweep in New Hartford yielded 129 tickets, most of them for talking on cell phones while driving. The citations were written July 24-27. The National Highway Safety Administration funded the crackdown, as it did in Syracuse, N.Y.
HB 6060: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers.
HB 5123: Would increase fines for handheld cell phone use by drivers in Connecticut from $100 to $150.
HB 6066: Would increase fines for handheld cell phone use by drivers from $100 to $200.
HB 6410: Would allow members of armed forces to use handheld cell phones while driving if on duty. Approved by House on April 29, 2009.
HB 6059: Seeks additional fines of $500 for causing an accident while on a handheld cell phone. If accident results in a death, $500 plus one-year suspension of driver’s license.
Connecticut’s prohibitions on handheld cell phone use while driving were enacted in October 2005 via HB 6722.