New York state and Connecticut have twin pilot programs to crack down on drivers texting and talking on cell phones, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Thursday.
The programs announced Thursday for Hartford and Syracuse, New York, are modeled after previous efforts to promote seat belts and curb drunk driving. Each city gets a $200,000 federal grant matched by $100,000 from the state.
Beginning April 10, police departments in Hartford, East Hartford, West Hartford and the State Police will be out in force to pull over and ticket anyone caught texting or talking on a handheld cell phone.
“I think it’s a good idea because, doing that, somebody could get hurt, so I think it’s a very good idea,” Reggie Griffin, of Waterbury, said.
“When somebody is on their phone or texting and an accident happens, it’s good for anybody to be paying attention,” said Erica Monroe of Hartford.
State law requires drivers 18 and older to use a hands-free accessory. Drivers under 18 cannot use any form of handheld mobile electronic device or hands-frees accessory while driving.
“Too many people believe that just being on a cell phone can’t and won’t contribute to causing a serious car crash, but these tragedies can and do happen all the time,” Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said.
In 2008, almost 6,000 people were killed and more than a half million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver nationwide, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Since October 2005, almost 117,000 cell phone and distracted driving citations have been issued in Connecticut, according to the state Central Infractions Bureau.
“No phone call is worth the risk of a ticket or worse, your life,” East Hartford Police Chief Mark J. Sirois said. “When you take your eyes or your mind off the road or your hands off the wheel, you make it unsafe for everyone.”
According to the state Department of Transportation, this is one of the nation’s first crackdown campaigns aimed at stopping distracted drivers.
Some drivers say while cracking down on distracted drivers is a good thing, they’re worried police will use this campaign as a way to pull over more people.
“I understand the people who do talk on their phone they’re very distracted, or texting, I understand that. But at the same time, I think that’s the easier way to pull somebody over to get them for other things,” said Ellis Simpson of Hartford.