Connecticut bans drivers from using hand-held cell phones

| 7/14/2005

Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed a bill into law this month that adds Connecticut to the short list of states that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone. The new rule takes effect Oct. 1.

The new law bans hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device will still be permitted for most drivers.

Drivers under age 18 and school bus drivers are banned from using any phone.

The new law, previously HB6722, makes it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning they would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would face up to a $100 fine. Emergency calls will be still allowed.

Included in the new rule is a provision to add a $100 fine to those who drive erratically or cause an accident because they’re engaging in activities such as drinking coffee, reading maps, eating or putting on makeup while behind the wheel.

Connecticut is one of 37 states this year to consider legislation to tighten regulations against the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The state joins New York and New Jersey as having the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles.

But with cell-phone related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, some government officials are questioning 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, recently 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.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor