Riding along with Southington police during distracted driving patrol

Riding along with Southington police during distracted driving patrol


State and local police held extra patrols this month to enforce distracted driving laws, and in the process handed out dozens of tickets.

The campaign — “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” — started Aug. 2 and ended Wednesday.

This reporter rode along with a Southington officer conducting distracted driving enforcement Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Most of the effort Wednesday focused on Queen Street, and the officer issued his first distracted driving ticket to a motorist about 11:30 a.m.

Officer Brandon Massarelli has been with the department for about four years, and has conducted distracted driving enforcements in the past. On a previous patrol, Massarelli said, he was parked on Queen Street when he saw a woman pulling out of a parking lot directly across from him while texting. She was unaware of his police cruiser a few feet in front of her.

“We’re all out here to do a job,” he said of the officers conducting enforcement. “We’re not out here to give people a hard time.”

In 2015, about 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured nationwide in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. Massarelli said it can be difficult to prove if an accident was caused by someone using their phone. One new dangerous development, he said, are drivers using a dash mount to video chat.

During the four hour patrol Wednesday, Massarelli issued five tickets and gave three written warnings. Massarelli started the morning parked along West Street, but didn’t see anyone on their phone. He caught more people in the act along Queen Street near Interstate 84.

A driver from New York said he wasn’t aware it was against the law in Connecticut, and woman from Rhode Island said she was trying to use her GPS to find Interstate 84. Massarelli said people usually try to explain, but just having the phone in their hand, even to make a call on speaker phone, is illegal. He only initiates a stop when he is certain he sees a driver with their phone, Massarelli noted.

While working traffic duty for road construction, he said, drivers often pass by on their phone, which endangers workers. Lt. Stephen Elliott, a police spokesman, said while the federal grant for the added enforcement allows the department to have extra patrols focused on distracted driving, officers enforce the law year-round.

Over the course of the campaign Southington police issued 79 infraction ticket, Elliott said. Meriden police issued about 90 infraction tickets, according to their department arrest blotter.

The fine for a first offense is $150, a second offense fine is $300, and subsequent offenses are $500.

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