An accident in which a teenage driver, allegedly distracted by a hand-held cell phone, struck and killed a jogger in Norwalk, Connecticut has brought attention to the issue of distracted driving and its risks. These risks are particularly pronounced for young and novice drivers. However, distracted driving — generally defined as driving while dividing attention between the road and a hand-held electronic communication device like a cell phone — is dangerous for everyone. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, over 3,000 people died in automobile accidents in 2010 in which distraction was a factor. Connecticut’s laws regarding distracted driving are among the strictest in the nation, but all drivers should be mindful of the dangers posed by distracted driving.
The accident occurred on March 24, 2012, when a 16 year-old teen driver struck and killed a jogger, 44 year-old Kenneth Dorsey. Police are withhelding the girl’s name because of her age, but they allege that she was using a hand-held cell phone either when the accident occurred, or shortly before it happened. Prosecutors in Norwalk charged her with negligent homicide, which could result in up to a year in jail. She also faces a fine and a thirty-day license suspension for violating Connecticut’s cell phone ban for drivers under the age of eighteen.
Connecticut passed its distracted driving law in 2008, and teen deaths from traffic accidents have reportedly declined steeply since then. Total annual teen traffic fatalities in Connecticut peaked at thirteen in 2007 and dropped to two by 2011. The law imposes strict limitations on minor and novice drivers.
Drivers under the age of eighteen cannot use cell phones in any manner, including with a hands-free device, while they operate a vehicle. This blanket prohibition also applies to school bus drivers who are working. The law prohibits all other drivers from hand-held cell phone use while driving, but they may use a hands-free device. A ban on texting while driving applies to all drivers statewide. Violations can results in a license suspension and a fine or reinstatement fee. Connecticut is reportedly the only state that allows police, if they catch a teen violating the cell phone ban, to suspend the teen’s license for forty-eight hours at the scene.