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Distracted driving isn’t just dangerous, it’s illegal in certain situations
In 1894, Frank Duryea drove the first car in Connecticut.
Frank and his brother Charles built the “Buggyaut” after witnessing the operation of a gasoline engine at the Ohio State Fair.
Although drivers faced distractions in the late nineteenth century, not even the forward-thinking Frank Duryea could have foreseen the number of distractions facing drivers today.
In this article, we’ll look at distracted driving in Connecticut, including the laws that govern the use of smartphones and how distracted driving may impact your personal injury claim.
Distracted driving statistics
Roughly 9 people are killed every day in the United States in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In Connecticut, there were over 5,400 crashes attributed to distracted driving in 2021 (up from 5,000 in 2020).
“There are far too many drivers engaged with cell phones and other electronic devices. It’s wrong and unlawful. No text message is so critical that it’s worth risking lives.”
- Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti.
The amount of drivers manipulating hand-held devices has increased by 127 percent since 2012. What’s more, distracted driving is vastly underreported because it’s difficult to prove unless a police officer sees it or a driver admits to it.
What are the most common types of distractions?
The term “distracted driving” refers to any non-driving activity that diverts a driver’s attention from driving. The most common types of distractions include:
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting the radio
- Watching videos
- Talking on the phone
Distracted driving activities fall into 1 or more of the following categories:
- Visual. A visual distraction occurs when you take your eyes off the road. Examples include texting, browsing online, and turning around to talk to someone in the back seat.
- Manual. A manual distraction occurs when you take your hands off the steering wheel. Examples include holding a smartphone, eating, drinking, smoking, and putting on makeup.
- Cognitive. A cognitive distraction occurs when you take your mind off the road. Examples include talking to another passenger, talking on the phone, and thinking about the song on the radio.
Research has shown that distracted driving significantly increases the risk of a car accident. For example, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that drivers were 2-6 times more likely to get into a crash when using a cell phone.
One of the reasons car crashes become more likely is that a driver using a cell phone will look but fail to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment. This phenomenon is called “inattention blindness,” and it occurs when the brain shifts between the task of driving and using a cellphone.
Distracted driving laws in Connecticut
The applicable distracted driving law in Connecticut depends on the age of the driver:
- If the driver is 18 or older, Connecticut law prohibits the use of any hand-held mobile device.
- If the driver is under 18, Connecticut law prohibits the use of all mobile devices–even with a hands-free accessory.
The state defines a “mobile device” to include:
- Any device capable of providing data communication between two or more persons (cell phone, pager, etc.)
- Any equipment capable of playing a video game or a digital video disk (laptop, iPad, etc.)
- Any equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted (smartphone, etc.)
With respect to Connecticut’s distracted driving law, mobile devices do NOT include audio equipment or any equipment installed in a motor vehicle for the purpose of providing navigation, emergency assistance, or video entertainment to the passengers in the rear seats.
Drivers who violate Connecticut’s distracted driving laws face the following penalties:
|Connecticut distracted driving penalties|
|First offense||Second offense||Third offense|
|$150 fine||$300 fine||$500 fine|
Connecticut’s distracted driving laws are primary enforcement laws, which means police can pull you over if they see you violating the law, regardless of whether you’re violating any other laws.
Are there any exceptions to Connecticut’s distracted driving laws?
The only exception to Connecticut’s distracted driving laws is when a driver is facing an emergency. Specifically, the use of a hand-held mobile telephone will be permitted in an emergency situation to contact:
- An emergency response operator;
- A hospital, physician's office or health clinic;
- An ambulance company;
- A fire department;
- A police department; or
- A peace officer.
How does distracted driving affect liability in a Connecticut car accident?
The fines for distracted driving are relatively minor (although they’re higher than in most other states). The real consequences arise when a distracted driver is involved in a car accident.
Under Connecticut law, a driver is negligent if they fail to use reasonable care and someone is harmed because of that failure.
When a driver causes a car accident because they were distracted (e.g., they were texting and driving or applying makeup while driving), the driver is negligent and responsible for paying the damages caused by the accident.
Connecticut is a modified comparative fault state, which means the plaintiff can recover damages from the defendant so long as the plaintiff isn’t considered more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.
If the plaintiff is considered more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, they can’t recover ANY damages. On the other hand, if the plaintiff is considered 50 percent or less at fault for the accident, their damages will simply be reduced by their percentage of fault.
What to do if you’ve been in a car accident with a distracted driver
Connecticut has a fault-based insurance system. This means that the driver who is responsible for causing the accident is also responsible for paying the damages that result.
If you’ve been in a car accident, proving that the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident can go a long way in supporting your claim that the other driver caused the accident. Here are some steps you can take following an accident to accomplish this goal:
- Call emergency services (911). If you’re injured, your first priority should be to get medical help. Remember, some symptoms don’t appear until hours or even days after an accident. For this reason, you should see a doctor immediately after your crash, even if you don’t think you were seriously injured.
- Tell the police. When the police arrive, be sure to tell them why you think the other driver was distracted. The responding officer can conduct an initial investigation and, if they find evidence that the driver was distracted, include this vital information in the police report.
- Gather information. Be sure to get the other driver’s contact information (their name, address, registration number, and license number). In addition, write down the contact information for any witnesses. Finally, take pictures of the scene, the damages, and anything else that’s relevant to the accident. If there’s any evidence that the driver was distracted (such as a half-eaten sandwich on the dashboard, take a picture of it if you can do so safely.
- Contact an attorney. Proving that another driver was distracted can be challenging. Fortunately, experienced personal injury attorneys establish fault for a living. An attorney can subpoena phone records, review security footage, depose drivers and passengers, and take other steps to establish that the driver was negligent.
Distracted driving accident resources
Here are some additional resources to help you after a Connecticut car accident caused by a distracted driver:
- Connecticut car accident guide
- Preparing to Meet with a Personal Injury Attorney
- How to Talk to a Lawyer for the First Time
- How to Choose the Best Lawyer
- 5 steps to filing an insurance claim after a car accident
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.