Leading the Charge to Strengthen Distracted Driving Laws

State Rep. Fred Camillo has proposed increasing the fines levied against drivers who chat, text.

A proposal to increase the fines for distracted driving offenses in Connecticut is to be the subject of a public hearing before the state Legislature's transportation committee Monday.

The bill to increases fines for first, second and third offenses has been proposed by state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151).

"I want to send a clear message that we have to put off the phone when we get into the car," Camillo said. Currently, the fine for a first offense for distracted driving using a cellphone to chat or text is $100. Under Camillo's proposal the fine would increase to $150; to $300 for the second offense and $500 for a third offense.

"I got a call from a girl whose boyfriend was killed while jogging, that was the inspiration for the bill," Camillo said.

Norwalk resident Kenneth Dorsey, 44, was struck and killed on March 24 on New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk. An affidavit Norwalk Police prepared to obtain an arrest warrant forthe driver, then a 16-year-old New Canaan girl, alleges she was using her iPhone to look at the New Canaan High School website when she struck the marathoner.

"The goal is not only education but to make people aware that just like we don't drive around with a bottle of gin or Jack Daniels in the car, you should not be using a cellphone if  you don't have a Blu-Tooth," said Camillo. In my opinion, it is worse than being intoxicated because you take 100 percent of your attention off the road, but if you’re drunk at least you’re looking at the road ... this is worse."

While Camillo has proposed the increased fines, he will not be attending the 10 a.m. committee hearing. Camillo, who is recuperating from surgery to remove a tumor from his throat, said he has arranged for his testimony to be read at the meeting. He said he expects to be able to return to Hartford later this week.

"I will be meeting with the doctor (this week). I hope not to miss too much. I have some wonderful colleagues who have offered to drive me (to Hartford)," Camillo added. "I'm healing but my throat is a little sore."

Camillo said the proposed increase of fines is the first step he hopes will become a reality. "Hopefully this passes, but we’re not going to stop there. One incident (of distracted driving) is too many."

Camillo added, "I think if there's an automatic tow or an automatic suspension of your license … so that people know 'God if I even look at a cell phone I will lose my license and get a ticket,' " would be a greater incentive for drivers to concentrate on the road.

If the increased fine legislation is passed this year, Camillo said, his hope is to propose the stricter regulations next year.


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