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Chris Oct. 14, 2013

Today the New Haven Register reported that Connecticut is getting tougher on texting while driving and points to a new law which took effect on Oct. 1.

Connecticut has band handheld cellphone (and other electronic device) usage by motor vehicle operators since 2006. Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 14-296aa provides in relevant part:

Except as otherwise provided in this subsection and subsections (c) and (d) of this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle upon a highway, as defined in section 14-1, while using a hand-held mobile telephone to engage in a call or while using a mobile electronic device while such vehicle is in motion. An operator of a motor vehicle who types, sends or reads a text message with a hand-held mobile telephone or mobile electronic device while such vehicle is in motion shall be in violation of this section.

What the new law, Public Act 13-271, enacted this spring, does is allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to assess points on the licenses of drivers who violate 14-296aa. One point to be precise.

While most people are aware of the existence of drivers license points, likely through references in pop culture or from police officers after they are handed tickets, few know how the process actually works. As I have discussed a few times, most notably in the posts regarding drinking and driving, DMV is an administrative agency that can take administrative actions separate from the legal system in response to convictions for crimes or infractions. Authorized by legislation, DMV has developed regulations to assess points for various offenses, ranging from a minimum of one point (speeding, failure to drive right) to five points (negligent homicide with a motor vehicle). DUI carries a three-point assessment.

Points for an offense remain on a driver’s record for 24 months. If at any time the driver accumulates six points, DMV sends him or her a letter warning that once the point total tops ten, the license will be suspended for 30 days. For any subsequent suspension, it will remain in effect until the point total falls below 10. Like DUI per se suspensions, there is a hearing process.

What’s the other collateral consequence that isn’t in the statute? Insurance. Insurance companies check drivers’ records when they apply for new policies and may also periodically pull records. Records with points and evaluations. At least that’s the idea behind the new law: people will be scared of insurance premium increases…because apparently they’re not scared of accidents. It might work.