Conn. Phone-y Drivers Could Be Called Upon to Pay Bigger Fines

January 19, 2007

Connecticut lawmakers are considering higher fines for people who talk on their handheld cell phones while driving.

More than a year after the state’s cell phone ban took effect, lawmakers say they’re concerned that too many drivers are still chatting away without fear of serious repercussions.

“Many constituents reached out to me and complained that the law is not being enforced and I know that they’re absolutely right. They’re absolutely right,” said Rep. Thomas J. Drew, D-Fairfield. “It’s a safety issue.”

The fine would jump from $100 to $250 under a bill that was raised Wednesday and will have a public hearing before the Transportation Committee on Jan. 24.

The ban took effect Oct. 1, 2005. Drivers who are at least 18 can use cell phones, but only with handsfree devices such as headsets. The law bans cell phone use by drivers under 18.

Under current law, police can write $100 tickets for violations. Motorists can avoid the fines by buying handsfree equipment within 30 days and showing the receipt to state prosecutors. Subsequent offenses also result in $100 fines.

The law prevents drivers from using other handheld electronics, such as Palm Pilots, iPods and BlackBerries.

Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said lawmakers want to know how the cell phone ban is working. The committee will look at whether enforcement needs to be stepped up and whether the fines should be raised.

“We’d like to look at all the statistics before we look at making changes,” he said.

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, the lead proponent of the cell phone ban, said he believes more people are using handsfree devices than ever before and he hopes stiffer fines will encourage even more compliance.

“Certainly $100 is apparently not doing enough in some areas and maybe $250 will,” he said.

Roy and Drew also hope the bill leads to greater enforcement. Under the current statute, the municipality where the ticket was issued gets $10 of every $100 fine. Lawmakers want to give local cities and towns $25 if the fines increase to $250.

“Certainly, (enforcement) has been sporadic,” Roy said. “Some towns have done a good job. Other towns have done very little.”

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