Distracted driving is a serious problem. But what does Connecticut law actually say about texting while driving? How about calling and driving? Am I technically driving when I am stopped at a red light (and can I then use my cell phone to call or text)? Connecticut General Statute Section 14-296aa prohibits certain actions when driving. Whether it should prohibit all use is a different question.
If you are using your phone and engaging it to send a text, you are violating the law. Driving doesn’t mean that the car has to be moving. Driving is operating the car. And you are operating the car when stopped at a red light or a stop sign. If you are on the traveled portion of the roadway, you are driving for purposes of this law. It’s obvious (or should be) that you cannot text when you drive. It doesn’t matter if you are sending the text through some voice command app or dictation app. The car engine may be on if you are safely pulled off the roadway and at a complete stop.
Calls, on the other hand, are a little different. You can make a phone call as long as you do it hands free. The law specifically prohibits holding the phone to your ear, or the proximity of your ear, not the making of the call in and of itself. So, if you are using headphones or a dashboard mount while the call is on speaker phone you can speak on the phone! If you are holding the phone in proximity of your ear then the law presumes you to be making a call and the burden shifts to you to show you were not making a call.
SPOILER ALERT TO ALL PEOPLE UNDER 18: You cannot use your phone while driving for any purpose. If you use it, you will be violating the law and may lose your license.
So, you can’t make a call without a hands free setup. You can’t read a text, write a text or send a text. BUT, what about all those other features our cell phones provide? GPS? Music? All those apps that send us constant notifications. The law is silent on these issues. All that is prohibited is “engaging in calls” and texting. Touching your phone to change the song? Entering a new GPS destination? For Lyft and Uber drivers, touching your phone within the app? Activating or deactivating a specific function on your phone, or a quick swipe of the screen? None of those are specifically prohibited. Just because you touch your phone doesn’t mean that you are “using” it in a prohibited manner. That doesn’t mean a police officer won’t ticket you anyway so safer not to use it at all, but if you do use your phone and get a ticket it can be challenged successfully.
Now, let’s talk about what happens if you do get pulled over for using your cell phone and you did use it for texting or making a call without a hands free setup. The fines imposed for violating this law escalate.
- First Offense - $ 150
- Second Offense - $ 300
- Third Offense - $ 500
Each individual conviction results in two DMV points against your license. Violations and points can result in a higher insurance premium, and potential suspension of your license!
Bottom line, the mere fact that you used/touched your phone for some purpose doesn’t mean you broke the law. These cases can be challenged successfully. If you have been ticketed for distracted driving or using a cell phone while driving please give me a call at Bayer and Black, P.C. 203-762-0751 to discuss your options.