Bills aim to make roadways safer

As the legislative session nears its end, proponents are pushing for passage of several bills they say will crack down on dangerous driving in Connecticut.

“Most of them are ready to go,” said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee. “Let’s look at the big picture, these are public safety bills.”

Guerrera said the bill raising fines for cell-phone violations and barring texting while driving has drawn the most attention from leaders and “has a good chance” of becoming law this legislative session.

The bill would end the policy of giving first-time violators a waiver if they buy a hands-free device, and instead imposes a $100 fine. It also increases fines for subsequent violations.

Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said she’s concerned that eliminating the possibility of a waiver for first offenses will remove the incentive for buying a hands-free device.

“At least now it’s an additional motivation to comply with the law and buy this,” she said.

But Guerrera said the cell phone law has been around for five years and people should know better than to use their phones behind the wheel.

“If it’s a heavier fine then maybe this will hit them enough to think again before using their phone,” he said.

Another bill would impose a fine of $75 for drivers who fail to remove snow and ice from their vehicles, and a fine of up to $1,000–$1,250 for commercial vehicles–if snow or ice flying from their vehicles results in an accident.

John A. Danaher, public safety commissioner, supports the bill, saying during a public hearing “many motorists, when confronted with flying ice or snow will try to swerve to avoid the object.”

The Motor Transport Association of Connecticut opposed it, saying it would be impossible to clear off tractor-trailers and other service vehicles.

New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have all proposed similar legislation, but has not become law.

Another bill would allow photos and video to be used as evidence against someone who passes a stopped school bus when a witness does not have time to write down the information. Currently, a school bus driver or another person has to witness and identify the vehicle.

Proponents say the number of those passing buses is increasing, and new technology allows for video and photos to be used to accurately identify those ignoring the stop sign.

William D. Moore, Connecticut Transportation Association executive director, said “many” school buses are already equipped to capture those violating the law, but as stand alone evidence it will not always result in a citation.

This bill would fix that loophole, he said.

Guerrera said support is mounting for this bill as well.

“This will give those who run the stop signs no excuse. It’s hard to argue against a photo or a video,” he said.

A final bill aimed at protecting pedestrians and cyclists on the roadway would impose a fine up to $5,000 and require community service when “careless driving” results in serious injury.

Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee said the time has come for all of these proposals and said they are all bi-partisan.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of if we will pass them, it’s a matter of when we will pass them,” she said. “But sometimes a situation has to gain magnitude for need before anything gets done. I would argue that’s where we are at.”