Connecticut May Increase Penalties and Restrictions in Cell-Phone Ban

Connecticut drivers may face increased fines for using hand-held cell phones while driving. The state banned talking and texting on hand-held phones in 2004, but many drivers continue to use them. Also, text messaging, e-mail and Internet usage on phones has markedly increased since the ban took effect in 2005.

The state legislature is now considering higher fines and a stricter ban. The proposed law would increase fines and revoke a provision that allowed drivers to avoid a fine if they purchase a hands-free device after the first violation.

At least one Connecticut state legislator wants to ban cell-phone use in cars altogether, arguing that hands-free conversations also dangerously distract drivers. Some motorists also want to remove some exemptions for emergency response officials, taxi drivers and others. Police argue they need the cell phones to avoid passing sensitive information to criminals over the publicly accessible police radio system.

Current state law bars drivers 18 and older from using hand-held "mobile electronic devices" while driving. Drivers under 18 may not use any type of cell phone, including hands-free devices. Driving and dialing is a primary violation, meaning motorists can be pulled over and cited for cell-phone use even if they have not committed any other traffic violations.

Connecticut is one of six states (and the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) that bar all hand-held cell phone usage. Another 16 states bar all cell phone use by teenage drivers, but have fewer restrictions on adults. In 20 states, drivers are allowed to talk on cell phones, but cannot text while driving.

Soon all states may ban texting while driving. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he would support proposed legislation that would withhold federal highway funds from states that do not ban texting while driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association supports bans on texting while driving, but is pushing for more research on talking while driving - both with hand-held and hands-free devices. The group is not convinced hands-free devices are safer.