OLR Research Report

April 8, 2010




By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for a discussion of the law and proposed legislation governing the use of cell phones while driving, particularly with regard to the penalty for a first offense.

CGS 14-296aa generally prohibits any person, while driving, from (1) talking or listening on a cell phone, unless he or she uses a hands-free phone, or (2) using any mobile electronic device. It also prohibits, with some exceptions, drivers under age 18 from using a hands-free cell phone while the vehicle is moving.

There are several exemptions to these provisions. Among other things, a driver who is at least age 18 may use any cell phone to communicate in an emergency to an emergency response operator, hospital, physician's office, health clinic, ambulance company, or fire or police department.

Under current law, a violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to $100. But the fine for a first-time violator, other than a school bus driver or a driver under age 18, must be suspended if the person presents proof of having acquired a hands-free accessory for the phone before the fine is imposed. Current law also imposes a $100 fine whenever a driver commits a moving violation while engaged in any non-driving related activity, including cell phone use, that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle. The $100 fine is in addition to any fine or penalty imposed for the moving violation.

As discussed in OLR report 2010-R-0094, Judicial Branch data indicate that from January 1, 2007 through September 30, 2009, there were 103,294 court cases involving violations of various provisions of this law.  The charges were nolled (dismissed) in 34,637 (33.5%) of the cases, primarily under the provision that allows first-time violators to have their fines suspended after presenting proof that they acquired a hands-free device.

This session SB 35 which died in committee, would have (1) eliminated the fine suspension provision for drivers who acquire a hands-free device, (2) reduced the fine for a violation from $100 to $50 for the period October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011, and (3) explicitly subjected texting while driving to the same penalties as using a hand-held cell phone while driving.

The Transportation Committee incorporated several of these proposals in SB 427, which it favorably reported. That bill:

1. replaces the maximum $100 fine for all offenses with fines of $100 for the first violation, $150 for a second violation, and $200 for subsequent violations;

2. eliminates the requirement that judges suspend the fine for a first offender if he or she acquire a hands-free accessory before the fine is imposed;

3. imposes a $500 fine on a driver who commits a moving violation, in addition to the penalty imposed for the moving violation, if the driver commits the moving violation while engaged in an activity (a) unrelated to operating the vehicle that interferes with its safe operation and (b) that results in an accident;

4. requires the state to remit 25% of the amount it receives from each summons to the municipality that issues the summons; and

5. specifies that it is illegal for a driver to type, send, or read text messages on a hand-held cell telephone or mobile electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle.

The bill is currently on the Senate calendar.