It was a year ago today that New Canaan was rocked by a that initiated, among other things, a dialog about distracted driving. On Aug. 18, 2010, 84-year-old Krishna S. Jayaraman was struck and killed as he collected his mail on Oenoke Ridge. According to the , Kate Regan, who is accused of hitting Jayaraman, told them she was changing a DVD when the accident occurred.
Soon after the accident, and Police Commissioner Jim Cole announced an initiative to in New Canaan, specifically cell phone violations. In October, the CT legislature passed an .
So, how are we doing? Have New Canaan drivers put down their cell phones when driving?
According to Sgt. Carol Ogrinc of the , distracted driving is still a priority for traffic enforcement in town. She said that 1,441 cell phone violations were logged between Aug. 15, 2010 and Aug. 15, 2011. That’s out of a total of 6,767 motor vehicle stops during the same period (see chart below).
Police Commissioner Jim Cole said the numbers weren’t broken out “until this became a big subject,” so making a comparison to prior years is difficult. According to police records, in calendar year 2010 there were a total of 6,839 motor vehicle stops with 1,005 cell phone violations.
“This is frustrating to me as a police commissioner. They’re a fraction of what I know to be the actual violations,” Cole said. “Just from observing people around town. It’s constant. It’s ubiquitous. I look at these enforcement/citation numbers, they’re only a fraction of the violations.”
Police Chief Edward Nadriczny said he thinks we’ll see improvement over time, and compared the public’s response to its reaction to the 1968 federal law that made wearing a seat belt mandatory.
“I think we’re going to see them get better in very small increments, much as we did the seat belts. It was something new when it became law and people had to change their habits,” he said.
Cole thinks the challenge is greater than that.
“Over the long term it’s awareness and I’m not confident that as a society we’ll ever solve this. I hear that seat belts took care of themselves. It’s more ingrained in the culture than that,” he said.
Cole said Nadriczny gives him a report on cell phone violations at every police commission meeting, along with an assessment of trends the chief is seeing.
“I would like to see the enforcement numbers be higher," Cole said. "I would like to see people’s behavior change, but I’m not seeing it. It’s a disappointment.”
He said he'd like to see the state legislature increase the penalties for cell phone use while driving, but he isn’t expecting that to happen.
“The legistlators genuinely feel if they make the penalties higher it still won’t have an effect on people’s actions,” he said.
Nadriczny said with people coming back from vacations and school about to start, the department will step up its awareness and enforcement campaigns. But the police can only do so much.
“We will continue to do what we can to enforce the cell phone law as best we can,” Nadriczny said. “But the only people who can fix the problem are the drivers of the vehicles. Ask yourself the question: do you do it yourself?”
DATE Motor Vehicle Stops Cell Phone Violations Aug. 15-31, 2010 264 38 Sept. 2010 487 52 Oct. 2010 831 347 Nov. 2010 742 204 Dec. 2010 491 76 Jan. 2011 419 107 Feb. 2011 442 82 March 2011 690 84 April 2011 422 25 May 2011 417 102 June 2011 695 165 July 2011 632 120 Aug. 1-15, 2011 235 14 TOTAL 6,767 1,441