Police officers in the Elm City will be doling out an unusually high number of driving tickets throughout April.
In a press release on Monday, the New Haven Police Department kicked off its version of the national “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” initiative as a part of distracted driving awareness month. Forty states, including Connecticut, are participating in the crackdown on multi-tasking at the wheel, reported the Governor’s Highway Safety Organization, a national association of governors. The traffic division of the NHPD will concentrate their efforts on high-traffic locations with a history of motor accidents, said NHPD spokesman David Hartman.
“This is not extra officers, this is just a concentration of officers on this specific type of danger,” Hartman said. “It doesn’t take away from their other enforcement responsibilities.”
Although the campaign is named after the crime of texting while driving, officers will also be on the lookout for a variety of other illegal activities at the wheel, such as reading the newspaper and eating breakfast, Hartman added.
Melinda Tuhus, a member of Elm City Cycling, which promotes bicyclist safety in New Haven, said she and Elm City Cycling applaud initiatives against distracted driving because they pose a particular danger to cyclists and pedestrians.
“I realized that if someone is texting, it doesn’t matter if I’m on the front of them or the side of them,” Tuhus said. “They’re not looking where they’re driving and they could hit or steer into me.”
Tuhus added, however, that traffic safety initiatives in the past have lacked long-term commitment. She said the police department has shown temporary surges of enthusiastic enforcement of traffic laws, where, for example, cyclists were heavily ticketed for violating bike laws — such as one requiring cyclists to have a light on their bike at night.
Although the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” program will only be in effect for the next three weeks, the program is meant to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving for better long-term safety, Hartman said.
Connecticut’s federal highway system has been at the forefront of decreasing cases of distracted driving for the last six years, wrote Connecticut Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office Supervisor Kathryn Faraci in an email. In 2009 and 2013, Faraci wrote, Connecticut was one of two states awarded federal grants to experiment with new methods, such as rovers and checkpoints, for catching distracted drivers.
Faraci said the state Department of Transportation is also seeking to raise awareness about distracted driving through publicity campaigns.
Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94, Ward 7 Alder and member of the Yale Traffic Safety Group, said she supports the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” initiative.
City Hall will host a press conference on April 15 at 10 a.m. on traffic safety enforcement in New Haven.