At a public hearing before the State Transportation Committee on Monday, state officials proposed two bills that would crack down on drivers who are caught texting while driving in Connecticut.
The bills honed in on the issue of texting while driving, differing only in their suggested measures. The first, introduced by Republican State Rep. Melissa Ziobron, proposes that penalties for texting while driving be altered to match the harsher penalties for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The second bill, suggested by Democratic State Rep. Frank Nicastro Sr., proposes increasing the existing fines for texting while driving. Under current law, drivers caught texting while driving face fines varying from $100 to $250. Teenagers are the only exception, also facing driver’s license suspension and a fee in order to restore their license.
“I have become increasingly alarmed at the pervasive use of texting I have witnessed on the roads in Connecticut,” Ziobron said in her testimony. “[We] must do more to reduce accidents and deaths attributable to this dangerous habit.”
Zobrion added that even though texting has provided a great convenience to so many people, its harmful implications are alarming.
According to a 2006 study done at the University of Utah, texting while driving is just as dangerous — and causes just as many accidents — as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. However, their legal consequences differ dramatically.
A person in the state of Connecticut who is caught driving under the influence can face fines and prison terms in addition to license suspension and ignition interlock restriction — which installs a Breathalyzer on the vehicle’s dashboard preventing the car from starting if their blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit. In contrast, those caught texting while driving must only pay a fine of $100 for the first offense, $150 for the second offense and $250 for a third or subsequent offense, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Ziobron, with her proposed bill, seeks to change that fine to a penalty schedule that matches that of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“I was surprised to learn that there is no penalty beyond a fine for multiple offenses of texting while driving, unless you are a teenager,” Ziobron said in her testimony.
Teenagers caught texting while driving face a 30-day license suspension for their first offense and a six-month suspension for their second and subsequent offenses. Added to this suspension is a $125 license restoration fee and court fines.
Michelle Goodson, owner of and instructor at Liberty Driver’s Education Center in Meriden, Conn., argued that these additional punishments for youth drivers are unfair. Adult drivers are also guilty of texting while driving, and the punishment should not fall on kids, she said.
“I don’t care who you are or how many years you’ve been driving,” Goodson said. “Texting is a distraction.”
Director of Transportation for the City of New Haven Doug Hausladen ’04 said he supports the proposal of increased penalties for driving and texting.
“Texting while driving is one of the most preventable causes of death in our transportation system, [which] can be remedied through good policy and, most importantly, enforcing that policy,” Hausladen said.
Currently, 44 states have instituted $20 to $10,000 fines for sending text messages while driving.