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The Distracted Driving Law Debate and Its Impact in Connecticut

The dangers of distracted driving are becoming more apparent every day. Research shows that those driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol are four times more likely to be involved in an accident than sober drivers. Recent research reveals a shocking figure, however; when compared to other drivers, drivers distracted by a cellphone are eight times more likely to get into an accident. These numbers indicate that distracted driving is often more dangerous than drunk driving.

These findings are adding momentum to the push for states to take a more aggressive approach to distracted driving laws, a movement supported by the federal government. The Department of Transportation has a well known distracted driving campaign attempting to educate the public on the dangers of cellphone use while driving.

Even with the information provided by recent research and traffic studies, many drivers remain detached from the reality of the dangers associated with cellphone use while operating a vehicle. This disconnect was highlighted in a study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA.) The research found that although 94 percent of drivers agree cellphone use is dangerous while driving, over one-third also admit to using a cellphone to make a call or send a text message while driving.

Support for Increased Cellphone Penalties

Statistics continue to support the push for increased penalties associated with distracted driving. In 2010 alone the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) reported that over 1,300 people are injured every day in distracted driver accidents. Closer to home, over 117,000 tickets were issued in Connecticut for cellphone and distracted driving violations from 2005 to 2008.

A report released by Harvard University states that drivers using a cellphone were more likely to drift between lanes and miss an exit than those conversing with a passenger in the vehicle. The study found drivers and passengers adjust their conversation in response to traffic cues. Passengers and drivers stop chatting when a problem arises or a passenger may offer advice, like reminding the driver of an upcoming exit.

This change in the rhythm of a conversation is not present when on a cellphone, which is not surprising since only the driver is aware of what was happening on the road. The report outlines that although people often try to multitask, the human brain can only focus on one major activity at a time. The researchers stated that talking on the phone can lead to “inattention blindness” while driving.

These findings and statistics are catching the attention of government officials throughout Connecticut. One prominent leader in this movement is State Rep. Lawrence Miller who proposed a bill that would make distracted driving crimes a felony.

Current Distract Driving Laws

Currently, Connecticut law prohibits the use of handheld cellphones to call or text while driving. It also prohibits those under the age of 18 from using hands-free cellphones while operating a motor vehicle. Violation of this law can result in suspension of a driver’s license and a monetary penalty of $125 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $400 for third or subsequent violations.

Connecticut law does not currently address the issue of fatalities connected to auto accidents caused by cellphone use. Instead, a death caused while using a cellphone is likely to result in a charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor.

Difficulty with Enforcement

Although lawmakers, enforcement officers and government officials often support increasing the penalties associated with these violations, cellphone use can be hard to track.

Drunk driving laws are strict in part because they are easier to enforce than cellphone use laws. A test such as a breathalyzer can be administered at the scene while similar “smoking gun” type tests do not yet exist for cellphone use. As a result, proving that cellphone use played a role in the accident can be difficult.

Although establishing proof can be an obstacle, it is important for victims of distracted driving accidents to know that compensation is often available to cover medical and rehabilitative expenses as well as pain and suffering resulting from a car accident. If you or a loved one is involved in an accident and suspect the other driver was distracted by a cellphone, it is important to contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced with distracted driving cases to better ensure your legal rights and remedies are protected.

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