Governor Dannel P. Malloy, joined by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, Attorney General George Jepsen, state Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) Commissioner James P. Redeker, state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner Melody A. Currey and executives from AT&T and Travelers Insurance, today kicked-off a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving by proclaiming September 19th "Don't Text and Drive Day in Connecticut".
"As long as motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for American teenagers, everyone needs to do their part to ensure our youngest, most inexperienced drivers have the knowledge to make responsible decisions when they get behind a wheel," said Governor Malloy. "We are issuing a call to action to all drivers, new and experienced, to help reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths associated with distracted driving by remaining focused on the task at hand -- operating your motor vehicle safely when under your control."
The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that, in 2011, motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver resulted in the death of 3,331 people - eleven percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. Per miles driven, the crash rate for teens 16 to 19 years-old is four times higher than for adults - this crash risk is even higher during the first year a teenager is eligible to drive.
"Distracted driving is nothing less than an epidemic," Lt. Governor Wyman said. "And beyond complying with the law, we all need to make a personal commitment to keep ourselves, our families and others on the road safe. No one's life should be lost or put in danger by a driver who thinks that he or she has something better to do than pay attention to the road and the safety of those around them."
The campaign is comprised of two initiatives aimed at spreading the message to all drivers, but especially teenagers, to concentrate on the road and refrain from diverting attention to a cell phone or other distractions while operating a vehicle. One is a partnership between ConnDOT and AT&T to launch the "It Can Wait" program in Connecticut. The other is DMV's annual teen safe driving video contest, which is sponsored by both DMV and Travelers. The campaign is supported by state and local police, 50 towns and cities, the American Federation of Teachers, the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
"We know the dangers -- and the consequences -- of distracted driving, particularly for inexperienced drivers," said Attorney General Jepsen. "But all drivers, young or old, need to obey the law when it comes to electronic devices. Remember, nothing you have to say is worth risking your life or others."
Connecticut state law prohibits a motor vehicle operator from using a hand-held cell phone or mobile electronic device while the vehicle is in motion. Those over 18 are required by law to have a hands-free device to use a cell phone or mobile electronic equipment. Drivers ages 16 and 17 years-old are prohibited from using a hands-free device at any time while operating a motor vehicle.
In July, Governor Malloy signed legislation that expands this law to include using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle at a temporary standstill, such as waiting in an intersection or at a red stop light. The legislation also requires the driver's license knowledge test to include at least one question on distracted driving. Governor Malloy also signed separate legislation that increases the fines for distracted driving, requires that the record of such a violation appear in the violator's driving history and be made available to motor vehicle insurers, and creates a task force to study distracted driving issues and report to the Transportation Committee by January 1, 2014. Both laws go into effect on October 1, 2013.
"This about program is about every driver, but it is also very much about our teenagers," said ConnDOT Commissioner Redeker. "Some 70 percent drivers who are 16 to 18 believe that they are capable of texting and driving safely, but driving while texting is similar to driving after having had 4 beers. It is just not safe."
DMV's teen safe driving video contest, "Teen Drivers: Put Your Brakes on Distractions", is open to high school students statewide. Students enter the contest with a 25-second public service announcement that warns against distracted driving and urges their peers to obey the state's teen safe driving laws. Travelers will provide the five winning high schools with a total of $15,000 in prizes and students who rank first place in the contest will receive iPads from AT&T. Students will work on the videos during the fall and submit them for judging by mid-January 2014, with awards being announced in early April.
"I applaud the combined effort here of everyone, both state and corporate partners, to raise awareness that texting and other distractions are just simply dangerous in every way when operating a motor vehicle," said DMV Commissioner Currey. "Our teen driving video contest aims to engage high school students to become more aware of those consequences."
"AT&T is proud to be partner with the State of Connecticut and we're grateful for the support of Governor Malloy in raising the awareness of the dangers of texting and driving," said John Emra, president, AT&T Connecticut. "AT&T is committed to educating our customers and all wireless consumers in Connecticut and across the country about the dangers of distracted driving and how to use their mobile devices safely. Our message is simple: There is no text worth risking your life to read or type -- It Can Wait."
Initiated by AT&T and supported by Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, "It Can Wait" includes a national advertising campaign to raise awareness and encourage everyone to take a pledge against texting and driving at www.itcanwait.com. This partnership is introducing "It Can Wait" to high schools across Connecticut through September 25, 2013, including the presentation of the initiative's new documentary, "From One Second to the Next". The documentary focuses on the stories of people who are living with the consequences of texting while driving. ConnDOT will also begin a broad initiative to bring a distracted driving program to every high school in the state over the next three years.
"This year's DMV-Travelers teen safe driving video contest is designed to send a message to Connecticut teens regarding the dangers of distracted driving," said Henry Edinger, Chief Customer Officer for Travelers. "Through the collective efforts of the contest's teen advisory panel, the contest partners and the DMV, our goal is to help teens understand both the importance of avoiding driving distractions and of developing safe habits behind the wheel early on in their driving experience."
In August 2008, Connecticut enacted new teen graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that brought an extended curfew, longer periods of passenger restrictions, more comprehensive training, and increased fines and penalties for teens each time they are convicted of using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. GDL laws are designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions. Research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that the most comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. More than 1,000 teen drivers 16 and 17-years-old have been convicted since 2007 of using a phone illegally in a vehicle they were driving.