By Jessica Lerner, firstname.lastname@example.org @jesslerner on Twitter Published 11:37 am, Tuesday, August 15, 2017
NEW HAVEN >> Anything that takes a person’s attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending or reading a text message takes a person’s eyes off the road for about five seconds, but at 55 miles per hour, “that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office announced the continuation of the “U Text. U Drive. U Pay.” campaign to crackdown on motorists who text, talk or distract themselves by using a cellphone while driving.
Over the last three years, Connecticut has received more than $6.8 million in federal funding, specifically to fund campaigns like this one. Connecticut qualifies for this federal funding through a combination of laws and a strong enforcement of distracted driving laws.
The first part of the initiative in April found a 17 percent decrease in cellphone use by drivers at observation locations where police conducted enforcement, officials said.
“While it is encouraging that there was a drop in observed hand-held phone use during the last wave, we still have a long way to go,” said DOT Commissioner James Redeker. “During the last campaign, there were still almost 12,000 citations issued to motorists. We need to continue to be vigilant and continue enforcement.”
Under Connecticut’s cellphone and texting laws, violations include fines ranging from $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second violation and $500 for each subsequent violation.
The second part of the campaign runs through Aug. 16. Aaron Swanson, the DOT distracted driving program manager, said this campaign targets drivers “who specifically choose to ignore Connecticut phone laws” by having over 50 law enforcement agencies add special patrols aimed at catching distracted drivers.
Police officers in several towns will be patrolling in units on foot, in unmarked cars and on bicycles. The officers, made up of mostly three to four person units, will be stopping cars at predetermined locations several times in August to issue citations, Milford Officer Mike DeVito said.
Swanson added the primary purpose of this campaign is to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle accidents that result from distracted driving phone use.
In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and an estimated additional 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involved distracted drivers nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This means every day approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that involve a reported distracted driver.
While all Connecticut motorists are prohibited from using hand-held cellphones and texting while driving, drivers 18 years of age and older can legally use hands-free devices. However, hands-free phones are not necessarily safer than hand-held devices, according to the NHTSA, as our brains have a limited ability to perform two tasks at the same time.
“The New Haven Police Department’s Motor Traffic Division is out there every day pulling people over for distracted driving. The fines are hefty but there is no price one can put on a life lost. Texting, eating, taking photos, entering GPS coordinates and applying makeup are just some of the behavior associated with distracted driving,” said Officer David Hartman. “Those are what our officers are focused on when we’re eyeing motorists traveling our streets and highways. Our message is loud and clear: put down the phone, put down the food and stay alert and focused. Tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye.”