Reading the Financial Times over a cup of coffee? Stimulating. Reading the Financial Times while driving? Dangerous.
After seeing a driver travel on Weston’s Route 57 with the telltale pink newspaper spread across his steering wheel, The Hub wondered what behaviors—aside from texting—prompt police to pull over a vehicle for distracted driving.
“Many people hit the drive through at a fast food restaurant and then try to eat and drive,” said Lt. Donald Wakeman, the Public Affairs Officer. “It’s tremendously distracting to try and dig out food from a bag, perhaps unwrap it, hold it and eat it while maintaining control of the car, and of course not spill your beverage.”
In Connecticut it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle on any highway using a hand held mobile telephone, or “engage in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle that interferes with its safe operation on a highway.”
The Nutmeg State . During the last legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill to increase fines for using a cell phone or texting while driving.
First time offenders face fines of $125, up from $100; a second offense increases from $150 to $250. Subsequent offenses mean fines increase from $200 to $400. Also, those caught texting while driving a commercial motor could be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle. Texting from these vehicles in an emergency is still allowed.
Distracted driving comes in various forms, such as cell phone use, texting while driving, eating, drinking, talking with passengers, as well as using in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices.
“There are other less obvious forms of distractions including daydreaming or dealing with strong emotions,” according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.
In short, anything that takes eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind of what one is doing is distracted driving.
According to the NHTSA in 2009, 5,474 people were killed in U.S. roadways and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.
Eating, drinking and then spilling while driving causes several accidents a year, said Lt. Robert Kozlowski, the Public Information Officer.
The NHTSA released a study in July that showed texting while driving decreased in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y. It attributed the decline to increased education and enforcement from April 2010 to April 2011.
Still texting ranks as the number one cause of distracted driving stops, Kozlowski said.
What’s surprising is that even with stiffer penalties, people not only continue to text and drive, they’re blatant offenders, he said.
“They just do the Cop Drop,” Kozlowski said. “That’s what we call it; it’s so obvious when they do it. They see us and then drop the phone in their lap.”
It's s not uncommon for drivers to treat their cars as beauty salons. But it is frowned upon.
“Using an electric shaver while driving certainly occurs, as well as applying makeup and even combing hair while driving,” Wakeman said. “It certainly lends itself to erratic operation when a driver is looking in the mirror and grooming themselves rather than paying attention to the road.”
Of course, dropping something or having an item roll off a seat and looking around for it while driving is another frequent distraction.
“Then,” Wakeman said, “there has also been the occasional driver stopped for erratic operation due to engaging in activity with a passenger that should not be occurring while driving a car.”