Distracted drivers targeted in East Hartford

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Sat., Apr. 2, 2011
Officer Peter Slocum stopped a minivan on Main Street in East Hartford last week. The driver received a $100 ticket for distracted driving. Photos by Frances Taylor.
Officer Peter Slocum stopped a minivan on Main Street in East Hartford last week. The driver received a $100 ticket for distracted driving. Photos by Frances Taylor.

“Phone in one, ticket in the other.”

Maybe you've seen the signs – or maybe you didn’t, because you were too distracted to notice.

But if you were driving on Silver Lane, Main Street or Governor Street this week, it’s possible you were among the thousands of people screened – or dozens of people stopped - by the East Hartford Police Department.

On Main Street, a police team that included a spotter and a chase car was positioned in strategic locations. “There’s a guy in a gray car using a cell phone,” the spotting officer said over the radio. Moments later, the vehicle passed by and a police car swung out behind him.

During a crackdown conducted between March 26 and April 1, the EHPD, along with Hartford and West Hartford police, targeted distracted drivers, particularly those using cell phones while driving.

By mid-week, East Hartford police ticketed more than 80 drivers they caught using cell phones to talk or text while driving, and a dozen others were cited for some other type of distracted driving. In addition to his ticket for using his cell phone, the man in the gray car turned out to be wanted for an outstanding criminal violation and was arrested during the traffic stop.

“We’ve seen ladies putting on make-up, people brushing their teeth or shaving – all kinds of behavior while driving,” said Lt. Curt Stoldt, a spokesman for the EHPD. “Even eating while driving – someone trying to balance a plate of food – can be a distraction.”

Sgt. Joseph DiMarco, East Hartford police traffic supervisor, is also a coordinator with the state project. “We’ve seen it all, heard every excuse,” Di Marco said, recalling a female driver who claimed to not have cell phone until it suddenly rang while tucked underneath her blouse.

“What we want people to realize is that distracted driving is responsible for 25 percent of all traffic fatalities,” DiMarco said. “In Connecticut, that’s over $300 million in injury-related costs, and a billion in property damage. It's a major problem.”

The week-long police effort was the final wave of a four-part project. The campaign is a project by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and funded by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Connecticut, New York and California were selected for the pilot program.

Officer Peter Slocum was parked in a cruiser in a clump of trees watching drivers pass by last week. “It’s a bit like fishing,” he said. “You just have to be a bit patient.”

After a few minutes, the police spotter saw a woman in a minivan on her cell phone, and she passed by Slocum seconds later, phone in hand. He swung his car out behind her and she stopped in the next block. Slocum said the woman told him she was talking to someone at her child’s school. Nevertheless, she got a $100 ticket for using her cell phone while driving.

“I don’t take joy in doing this – it’s a lot of money for some people,” Slocum said. “But this campaign has gotten a lot of publicity. Hopefully people will think about it more, and take the hint.”


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