Police Patrol Teams to Combat Distracted Driving
WETHERSFIELD - Better not text and drive--at least not at any point between Sept. 3 and 24, anyway.

       The Wethersfield Police Department will be able to dedicate road patrol teams to enforcing the state’s texting while driving ban during that period, courtesy of a state Department of Transportation grant. The Town Council approved the Police Department’s acceptance of the grant at its Aug. 18 meeting.

       “It’s gone the way of seatbelts and drunk driving in that the state has put out a grant,” said Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran in comments made to the Council before the vote was taken. “Of course distracted driving is very dangerous, so we want to jump on that.”

       How dangerous?

       In 2011, there were 3,331 fatalities from “distracted driving”, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Distracted driving” is a vague term, but the increase-from 3,267 the year before-occurred during a year in which 196 billion text messages were sent or received. That’s a 50 percent increase in text messaging from 2009.

       Eighteen percent of motor vehicle crashes in 2011 involved a distracted driver, according to the CDC.

       “It’s tough for an officer to handle that [enforcing the ban on texting while driving] because if you see it, you don’t want to make a dangerous situation more dangerous by chasing them down in traffic,” Cetran said.

       So in Wethersfield, distracted driving related tickets don’t top the list of offenses the Police Department catches, he said.

       “It’s not a real significant number,” Cetran said. “Speeders are probably higher. It’s [distracted driving] harder to enforce. Speeding is probably easier with radars, but officers would be dedicated to this [distracted driving] so it should bring in more.”

       Cetran envisions deploying one to two teams of two officers. One officer on each team acts as a spotter while the other pulls over the offending motorist. The grant money covers the cost of paying them overtime.

       Teams will be on duty for shifts that range from a minimum of four hours to eight hours, and can be deployed at any point seven days a week.

       The maximum grant amount a town can get is $15,000. Wethersfield will be getting $13,500, and the state DOT will match 25 percent of what a police department actually uses.