Talking on a cell phone while driving may now prove costly to Connecticut drivers.

A law which took effect on Saturday, bans the use of hand-held mobile telephones while operating a motor vehicle in the state of Connecticut. Drivers must now use a hands-free device in order to speak on their phones, and drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted to use cell phones at all, State Rep. Richard Roy said.

Roy, who led the campaign for the cell phone regulation legislation in Connecticut, said the purpose of the law is to lessen the number and severity of cell phone-related accidents.

“Every year there are more and more accidents caused by cell phone use while driving, and more and more evidence that curbing cell phone use would make roads safer for both cell phone users and other drivers,” Roy said in a June 2005 press release.

Despite the popularity of cell phones on the road, Roy said most citizens approve of the new legislation, which passed overwhelmingly in both state houses.

“The majority of motorists are in favor [of the law],” he said. “There has been a lot of support for it.”

Any individual caught violating the new law can be fined up to $100. But if a first time violator subsequently purchases a hands-free accessory and brings it to court, both the charges and fine will be dropped, Roy said.

While cellular phones are the main target of the legislation, the law, Public Act No. 05-159, also bans any activity “not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such vehicle.”

Roy said such activities include putting on make-up, shaving, reading or using other hand-held devices such as Blackberries, iPods, Palm Pilots or video games. A motorist can even be penalized for drinking coffee or lighting a cigarette, should the activity impair his or her driving ability, Roy said.

But the law does not apply to drivers in special circumstances. Taxi drivers, emergency vehicle operators and police officers are among those exempt from the new regulations. In the case of an emergency, motorists may use their cell phones to contact the appropriate emergency dispatcher.

Although there has been a significant amount of publicity surrounding the law, Roy said he expects law enforcement officers to be lenient in the coming weeks as drivers adjust to the new regulations.

Connecticut State Police Sgt. James Vance said the department’s current focus is education as opposed to penalization, although individual officers retain circumstantial discretion.

“We have a campaign right now to continue our educational process, informing motorists of the law [and] giving out warnings to people who are not abiding by the law,” Vance said.

On campus, the cell phone law will not receive a special amount of attention from University police because motor vehicle enforcement is not one of the department’s primary objectives, Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said.

“I don’t think it is really going to affect our operations that much,” Patten said. “That being said, it is our policy … to write warnings during the first 30 days after a new law is enacted.”

While most students who live on campus do not drive cars on a regular basis, some said the new law will affect their daily habits.

Although Hermes Huang ENAS ’10 said he often uses his cell phone while driving, he said he is in favor of the new law and plans to purchase a headset in order to comply with it.

“People do get in accidents because they only have one hand on the wheel and are not really paying attention,” Huang said.

Driver distraction, the focus of the new law, contributes to 25 percent of all police-reported accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site. In a 2003 study by the University of Utah, researchers found that cell-phone users exhibited greater driving impairment than legally intoxicated motorists.

In the future, some Connecticut residents, including Roy, are in favor of a total ban on cell phone use in cars, although such legislation would probably face more resistance, Roy said. A study published in the British Medical Journal in July 2005 found that individuals using cell phones while driving are four times more likely to crash their vehicles regardless of whether a hands-free device is used.