Southington police cracking down on cellphone use while driving

Southington police cracking down on cellphone use while driving


Officer Jeremy Busa stopped a car driving on West Street in Southington for talking on their cellphone while driving. | (Lauren Sievert/Record-Journal)

SOUTHINGTON — Sitting in an unmarked police sports utility vehicle, Officer Jeremy Busa looks for people talking on their cell phones while driving. He never has to wait long.

Town police are running a cellphone enforcement campaign. In one shift, an officer could issue up to 10 tickets depending on the traffic and time of day. The ticket comes with a $150 fine for a first offense, and $300 for a second offense.

It took five minutes on Friday for Busa to pull over a man in a pickup truck near Main Street. He didn’t argue. Busa said most of the time, drivers accept the ticket without protest. Sometimes they make an excuse.

“It’s as bad as driving under the influence,” Busa said. “You can kill someone.”

When the cell phone law was first enacted, police gave out only warnings, Busa said. After that officers started issuing tickets. Most prosecutors would drop the fine if the resident proved they bought a hands-free device. Now the state has moved to issuing steep fines.

Busa said at this point there is no excuse.

“No officer likes giving tickets,” Busa said. “But it is for public safety. God forbid they crash into a family.”

Sitting in the black SUV, Busa looks at every car passing. Sometimes it’s obvious a driver is on the phone. Other times the person is simply resting their head on their hand.

While parked on North Main Street, Busa spotted a woman in a white mustang talking on her phone as she drove. Busa pulled out of the parking lot and followed her for a few seconds and then turned on his lights and sirens. Several cars pulled over to the side of the road, but the white mustang pulled into a parking lot and drove around to the back of the lot.

Busa angled his SUV to stop the driver. She rolled down her window and asked what was going on. Busa replied that he was pulling her over for cellphone use, and she got upset and said her “blind and deaf father” was calling her and she absolutely had to take the call. While Busa used a computer to retrieve her license and registration information, she kept repeating that her blind and deaf father was calling and she had no choice. When Busa handed her the ticket and she saw the fine, the woman started yelling expletives at Busa, saying she wasn’t rich and couldn’t afford it. Busa explained that she could plead not guilty.

“We are not monsters,” Busa said. “But if one ticket prevents one person from doing it, it’s worth it.”

Within five hours, Busa had issued about eight tickets for cellphone violations. Busa said unfortunately, some people “just don’t care,” and will offend again. The state increased the amount of the fines in recent years. The fine is large enough to cause most people a significant inconvenience. But as Busa pointed out, a hands-free device can cost as little as $20, much better than a $150 fine.

Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz said the enforcement has been going on since March 1, and so far 100 drivers were stopped, resulting in 77 infractions issued in 14 days.

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