Texting while driving is now illegal in Connecticut, as Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed the bill into law today. The new law also increases fines for talking on a cell phone while driving; to $100 on the first offense, $150 for the second offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. It also ends the policy of giving first-time violators a waiver if they buy a hands-free device.

“Five years ago, Connecticut became one of the first states in the nation to fight back against these totally preventable crashes. Now it is time to bolster that law,” Rell said. “Frankly, after five years it is time to eliminate that ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ provision.”

A few legislators opposed getting rid of the waivers for first offenses, saying there would be no incentive to purchase a hands-free device to comply with the law.

The legislature’s budget office said in 2008, 14,500 drivers received a warning for using their phone while driving and 22,500 received a fine.

While many people were already under the impression it was illegal to text message while driving, the previous law concerning mobile telephones makes it illegal “to engage in a call” but does not specifically mention text messaging, this bill fixes that Rell said.

“Technological advancements in communications have certainly made life easier for us all, but there are just some places where cellular phones just don’t belong,” said Rep. David A. Scribner of Brookfield, ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee. “Using phones and mobile devices while sitting behind a steering wheel just doesn’t mix.”

Rep. Lawrence G. Miller, R-Stratford, had proposed two bills in the past three years specifically banning text messaging while driving, but the Transportation Committee never moved forward with the proposals before this year.

Rell said when introducing a similar bill earlier this year, 19 states prohibit text messaging and six states prohibit using hand-held cell phones while driving. Rell’s proposal would have gone one step further than this new law and added a $500 fine for crashes resulting from the driver using a cell phone.

Connecticut’s new law will generate new revenue for towns and cities imposing these fines, as 25 percent of the fine goes into their coffers and the remaining 75 percent to the state’s.

The AAA supports laws banning drivers from texting, but a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found no reduction in crashes in states with laws that ban hand-held cell phone use.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in January announced a federal ban on text messaging for commercial truck and bus drivers. In October, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning Federal employees from text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles, when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving or when driving privately owned vehicles when they’re on official government business.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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