Almost Half of Conn. Cell Phone Violators Let Off the Hook

February 14, 2007

Violators of the state’s cell phone ban ponied up about $700,000 last year by mailing in the $100 fine and not contesting the citation, but the state potentially missed out on more money by not prosecuting the thousands of drivers who came to court.

Judicial branch statistics from 2006 show that police handed out more than 19,000 tickets statewide for violating the hand-held ban. Of that total, 8,901 people or 46.74 percent of those ticketed were not prosecuted, meaning potential fines of $900,000 went uncollected.

A bill that would raise fines is pending before the Transportation Committee, but one co-sponsor questions whether higher fines are appropriate.

State Rep. Richard Roy, the lead proponent of the ban, said he did sympathize with those who chose to pay and has heard the same from some police officers.

“That’s a lot of money, money that could be put to good use I’m sure by the people who were fined,” said Roy, D-Milford.

“A seat belt violation is $37,” Roy said. “One officer said he had no trouble giving out a $37 ticket, but he would have a lot trouble giving out a $200 fine for a cell phone. That takes food off people’s tables.”

The recent statistics did not offer a breakdown of the reasons for not prosecuting those who were ticketed. However, current state law allows first-time offenders to have the fine waived if they can prove they bought a handsfree accessory for their phone within 30 days of getting a ticket. In other cases, prosecutors may have accepted a driver’s excuse for the violation or proof that it was emergency allowable under the law.

About 7,300 motorists pleaded “no contest” to the charge and mailed in a $100 fine last year. More than 1,800 drivers, about 9.5 percent of those ticketed, were found guilty of a cell phone violation after challenging their case in court. Some 763 individuals had their license suspended after they failed to respond to the ticket by mailing in a fine or appearing in court, the statistics show.

Norwalk Police Chief Harry W. Rilling, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said he thinks drivers will take the ban more seriously if they know they risk a substantial fine.

“The amount of the fine really wouldn’t have an impact on a police officer’s likelihood of enforcing the law,” Rilling said. “What it would do is send a very clear message to those people ignoring the law that the legislature is serious about it and it would have a significant impact on them.”

Topics Law Enforcement Connecticut

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