Connecticut's law prohibiting driving while talking on a cell phone or texting is clearly not working. Legislating the use of mobile devices while driving is like trying to curb any innate human behavior - it doesn't work. In spite of enforcement efforts, Connecticut's roads are filled with drivers talking on cell phones.
A stark gap exists between governmental concern for the public's safety and the public's complete ignorance of the danger posed. Drivers will use their cell phones at any time, at any cost, in the face of any risk. They apparently don't care that the U.S. Department of Transportation reports 5,500 fatalities and a half-million injuries caused by distracted drivers in 2009. Separate surveys by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and the Pew Research Center both showed that 75 percent of drivers admit to talking while they drive.
How many chatty drivers are really impacted by enforcement efforts in Connecticut? The Nutmeg state is home to 2.25 million people between the ages of 18 and 64. Let's say 75 percent own cell phones and drive, a reasonable assumption. People owning a cell phone will use it while driving, whether occasionally, frequently, rarely or constantly. This 75 percent constitutes a conservative figure of 1.9 million drivers using cell phones on Connecticut roads at any given time. That averages out to 380 lawbreakers per square mile. Condense these numbers into metropolitan areas where users are concentrated and use your imagination to picture the conversational chaos.
Connecticut handed out about 41,000 cell phone tickets per year for 2008 and 2009. This means that only .03 percent of the motoring public were caught driving distracted, leaving 99.97 percent of vehicle operators unpunished for blabbing and driving. And those caught were probably back on the phone before they left the courthouse parking lot.
The problem is far beyond the resources law enforcement agencies can muster.
Citizens of Connecticut make clear every day that they're willing to break the law and accept the risks of driving distracted, including the selfish risk of endangering others. That's how integral and how innate is our human need to communicate. Legislate away that impulse? It's not going to happen.
John Steward lives in Waterford.