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In Connecticut, more men than women use phones, drive

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BRANFORD, Conn. >>  When it comes to chatting on the phone or texting while driving, it’s the men who are more often the culprits.

Contrary to the stereotype that women talk more, men in Connecticut have consistently gotten more tickets than women for driving while texting or talking on cell phones since the law went into effect six years ago, a review by The Association Press shows.

Male drivers received between 52 and 54 percent of the distracted-driving tickets annually since 2006. Females comprise slightly more than half the 2.5 million licensed drivers in the state, according to records obtained by AP.

Last year, for instance, Connecticut men got nearly 16,000 tickets while women received 13,690. In 2010, men received 25,392; women 21,346.

Patrick Michael, 20, of Branford, was recently ticketed for talking on the phone while driving. He said he wasn’t surprised to hear that more men get tickets and speculated that police are more likely to let female drivers go without a ticket, "especially if they can bust out the waterworks."

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and Washington, D.C., bar handheld cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. No state bans the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.

The bans apply to cell phone use, regardless of whether an accident was involved, said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

There were 3,092 national fatalities blamed on distracted driving in 2010, 408 of which involved cellphone use, federal highway safety officials said .

Connecticut’s higher rate of violations by men is not surprising, said David Snyder, vice president and associate general counsel of the American Insurance Association, a trade group that represents 300 companies. He said that’s consistent with other findings involving male drivers.

"Statistics show that male drivers are more likely than female drivers to engage in risk-taking behavior and more males than females die in motor vehicle crashes every year," Snyder said.

A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that 51 percent of men who use text messaging have sent or read messages while driving, compared to 42 percent for women. The survey found 78 percent of men reported talking on the phone while driving, compared to 72 percent of women.

Similar findings have been reported by researchers in Utah and Washington state, separate studies in Arizona and Texas showed little difference in how much men and women talked.

And federal researchers have mixed findings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last year that researchers observing drivers found women slightly more likely to use handheld cellphones than men. But a NHTSA telephone survey had more men reporting they made or accepted phone calls than women, 42 percent to 39 percent.

In Connecticut, drivers get a $125 ticket for the first offense and $250 for a second offense. Drivers under 18 also face license suspension.

Michael said he was talking to a cousin in the hospital when he was stopped.

"I don’t really find it distracting," Michael said.

He was stopped in Branford, a suburb of New Haven that has been among the top towns for tickets issued.

Branford cracked down after reviewing accidents and concluding that many were caused by inattentive driving such as talking or texting on the phone.

Branford police officer Bryan McGinnis, one of two officers dedicated to enforcing the law and other traffic violations, said he can easily spot 10 to 15 violations in a day. He was quickly able to spot drivers talking on cellphones as he patrolled the town Jan. 19.

Kelly DePalma, a 28-year-old New Haven resident, was one of several women McGinnis ticketed.

"It’s garbage," DePalma said. "I pay for this car. What I do in it, you know. You can get distracted from anything."

DePalma and other drivers complained that they were pulled over by an officer in an undercover car. "It’s almost like entrapment," she said.

McGinnis said that’s a frequent complaint, but noted his black car says Branford police on the side.

Within minutes, he’d find more talkers.

"Oh, she’s talking, too," he said, sighing, as he gunned the engine to catch up to another violator.

McGinnis caught up to the woman in a parking lot of an oil-change business.

"I went up and she was still talking on the phone and she said ‘I’m not talking on the phone,’" McGinnis said. "I think she was just trying to be funny."

Greenwich, a wealthy town on the New York border, also was among the top towns for tickets issued.

Greenwich Sgt. John Slusarz said he wasn’t surprised that more men were getting tickets. He said men drive more than women because they are more concentrated in fields such as construction and landscaping that require them to drive to work sites.

"Cellphone use in this particular area is abundant," Slusarz said. "We’re seeing a huge increase in texting and driving. It happens all over the place. It causes a significant problem with distracted driving."


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