Dangers of Distracted Driving

The following was written and submitted by Officer Paul Medvegy of the Fairfield Police Traffic Enforcement Unit

Everyday, while I am patrolling the streets of Fairfield, I become very perplexed by the amount of people who are either talking, texting, checking or sending e-mails, and listening to voice mails on their mobile handheld cell phones while they are operating their vehicles on the public road. These drivers are simply, “Distracted”, which can lead to an increase in vehicular crashes, and violations of traffic laws.

What is Distracted Driving? Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety as a whole. For example, text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from any person. So, how is a driver going to focus 100% of their cognitive attention to the road when they are either texting a friend or engaged in a call by holding their cell phone up to their ear? Studies have shown using a hand held cell phone while driving delays a driver’s reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. Also, there are many other distractions that limits a person attention to the road while operating a motor vehicle such as eating or drinking, watching a video on an electronic device, and reading a map /newspaper/book.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2009, “5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured”.

The State of Connecticut over the past few years has taken a strict approach to combat, “Distracted Driving” by implementing a standard fine that increases at each occurrence. Per Connecticut Motor vehicle Statute 14-296aa, an operator who holds a telephone to or in the immediate proximity of his or her ear while the motor vehicle is in motion is presumed to be engaged in a call.

The statute that applies to, “Operation of a Motor Vehicle while using a Hand-Held Telephone or a Mobile Electronic Device is 14-296aa(b). The statute states, “ Any person while using a hand-held mobile telephone to engage in a call or while using a mobile electronic device, operators a motor vehicle on a highway while the vehicle is in motion; or an operator types, sends, or reads a text message while the motor vehicle is in motion”. Also, The Distracted Driving Statute is 14-296aa(i) that states, “ a person engages in an activity unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle that interferes with the safe operation of the motor vehicle on a highway is in violation of distracted driving”. This particular statute applies to an individual who is being charged with another moving violation in the course of being distracted such as driving through a stop sign while the person was texting. Furthermore, the state of Connecticut has other distracted laws that pertain to a person under the age of 18 years old (14-296aa(d)), for school bus drivers (14-296aa(c)), and for commercial motor vehicle operators (14-296aa(e)).

The 2011-2012 statutes and fines for 14-296aa(b), 14-296aa(c), 14-296aa(i), 14-296aa(d), and 14-296aa(e) are as follow:

1st offense = $150.00, 2nd offense = $250.00, 3rd or subsequent offenses = $400.00

Last year, the US Department of Transportation located in Washington D.C. enacted tougher strict Federal civil penalties on 11/23/11 that bans the use of hand- held cell phones by drivers of buses and interstate large trucks. Drivers who violate the restrictions will face civil Federal penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense, and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for subsequent offenses. Also, Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of up to $11,000.

The Fairfield Traffic Safety Unit is committed to combating, “Distracted Driving” on our roads by educating the community, and enforcing all Connecticut traffic laws. If you have any traffic related questions please feel free to contact the Traffic Department located at the Fairfield Police Department, Ph: 203-254-4850 or view our website (http://fpdct.com/site/).

Written by Ofc. Paul Medvegy, Fairfield Police Traffic Safety Officer (pmedvegy@town.fairfield.ct.us)