Police seek distracted driving enforcement grant

Selectmen signed off on a grant application Monday night that if approved will enable the Wilton Police Department to increase its enforcement of the laws that prohibit distracted driving. Wilton is among the top 25 municipalities, according to the state, in terms of accidents as a result of distracted driving.
“It’s quite similar to the Comprehensive DUI Enforcement Grant that we do every year,” said Lt. Robert Cipolla at the March 7 meeting. “This is the first year that we are applying for this particular grant. It’s the second year that the state of Connecticut has offered it.”
The Distracted Driving High Visibility Enforcement Grant helps eligible police departments pay to “put more officers on the road during specific dates in April and August this year for high-visibility distracted driving enforcement,” Cipolla said.
“High-visibility enforcement” typically describes police-led traffic safety campaigns designed to change unlawful traffic habits, in which officers target one specific traffic safety issue and increase their enforcement of the law that prohibits it.
High-visibility enforcement usually coincides with some degree of public outreach through the media as well.
In the case of this particular high-visibility enforcement grant, the state, through federal funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, grants monies to the 60 Connecticut municipalities that have the greatest counts of distracted driving accidents, Cipolla said.
The ranking system the state uses to make that determination, however, is complex, and that’s why, “here in Wilton, we came up No. 23, based on data from 2009 to 2013,” Cipolla said.
“It is difficult,” Cipolla said. “There are limitations in determining the amount of accidents that are a direct correlation to distracted driving. What the state of Connecticut did is used several variables to come up with a ranking system.
“What they really look at is the amount of rear-end accidents, the amount of one-car accidents going off the roadway, but they also took into account ratios based on daily vehicle miles traveled and the populations of specific towns, and used those variables and the amount of accidents to [create] that weighted ranking system.
“To say that every single one of those accidents that they used [to make their determination] was a result of distracted driving would not be accurate,” he said.
The Distracted Driving High Visibility Enforcement Grant is 75% overtime reimbursement, “and then 25% is a program match on our end,” Cipolla said.
“But per the distracted driving statute in Connecticut,” he added, “25% of every distracted driving infraction that is issued comes back to the local municipality on a quarterly basis.”
A first-time offense of distracted driving can be cited for $150, a second offense for $300, and a third for $500, Cipolla said.
“During this program, if we gave out 100 citations for [first time offenses of] distracted driving, it would offset more than half of the cost on our end,” he said.
The grant parameters call for “spotter-type enforcement,” Cipolla said. “We would have a spotter in a location, discreetly, where they could call out to officers down the road.”
Through the grant, police can get overtime reimbursements between April 4 and April 30, and between Aug. 3 and Aug. 16. “The goal is, we’re going to pick less dates, but try to get more officers out there. I think that would be more effective,” Cipolla said.
“Ultimately, the objective of it is to decrease the number of fatalities and injuries that result from distracted driving,” he said.