Connecticut lawmakers seek cell phone restriction on drivers

| 2/15/2005

Three legislators in the Connecticut Senate are pursuing efforts to add the state to the list of states that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

The bills, offered by Sens. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, and William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Under Crisco’s version – SB51 – a driver stopped for using a hand-held phone could be fined up to $75. It would exempt emergency calls. SB567 and SB725, offered by Nickerson and Finch, respectively, don’t specify a fine amount.

Currently, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. Several states, however, are in the process of addressing the issue.

But with cell-phone related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, even government officials wonder why this particular behavior was chosen for a law. Studies have shown that hands-free and hand-held cell phones are equally distracting.

“We’ve evaluated and come to the conclusion that hands-free use is just as risky or perhaps riskier than hand-held phones because it’s the cognitive distraction that can compromise driving” Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told The New York Times.

Tyson said research within his agency and outside, along with driving simulations, found that it was the talking on a cell phone while driving – not holding it – that was distracting, and that therefore cell phones should be used only in emergencies.