The memory of Kenneth Dorsey, of Norwalk, a jogger killed by a distracted New Canaan High School student, was recalled late Thursday when the House and Senate passed two bills nearly simultaneously.

The unanimously approved Senate bill would allow prosecutors to seek up to $1,000 in additional fines, above and beyond any criminal penalties, if a distracted driver strikes and injures or kills a so-called vulnerable user of the road.

They include horseback riders, joggers, pedestrians and others lawfully using the thoroughfare.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who often rides her bicycle to the Capitol, said the bill is aimed at increasing the care of both drivers and others using the public right of way.

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Getting tougher
The unanimously approved Senate bill would allow prosecutors to seek up to $1,000 in additional fines, above and beyond any criminal penalties, if a distracted driver strikes and injures or kills a so-called vulnerable user of the road.
They include horseback riders, joggers, pedestrians and others lawfully using the thoroughfare.
The House bill, approved 139-1, would allow the state insurance commissioner to notify auto insurers when distracted clients are caught and would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to assess points on licenses of offenders.
It would also hike the penalties for driving while operating a handheld device to $50 for a first offense, $300 for a second and $500 for third and subsequent. According to a nonpartisan analysis of the bill, last year there were 22,752 first violations, subject to $25 fines; 344 second offenses exposed to $250 fines; and 50 third and subsequent offenses liable for $400 fines.

"We also established that it's very important for the rider to be riding in a responsible way," Bye said. "This strikes the right balance."

Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said that bike ridership is on the rise, particularly in his city. "It's also part of the whole idea of thinking about development and traffic patterns differently than we did a generation ago," he said.

Sen. Antonietta Boucher, R-Wilton, noted that similar legislation passed the Senate last year, but it died in the House. "The major concern had to be about the responsibility that each party had, in order for this to be fair," she said.

"There are very irresponsible drivers that are distracted, particularly these days with so many different cell phones and other items, even computers for that matter and iPads in cars and they're not paying attention that there are other individuals on the road and sidewalk," Boucher said.

The proposal was filed in response to the March, 2012 death of Dorsey, 44, who was jogging in Norwalk when an SUV operated by Brianna McEwan of New Canaan struck him as she was using a handheld device to check her high school website.

She was eventually charged with negligent homicide, but pleaded guilty last October to a lesser charge and received a suspended prison sentence in state Superior Court.

The House bill, approved 139-1, would allow the state insurance commissioner to notify auto insurers when distracted clients are caught and would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to assess points on licenses of offenders.

Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, worked with a friend of Dorsey's to draft and promote the legislation.

"I think this would put Connecticut in the forefront with an issue that I think even tops driving under the influence, because as bad and as deadly as driving drunk can be, you're still focused on the road, however cloudy," Camillio said in the House debate.

"But when you take your eyes off the road, you are completely blind to the road. It's having a deadly affect across the nation."

"This is an epidemic," said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee.

"There is no way of stopping this right now. There will be technology in a number of years but as we all know as we drive on our roads today, we can look to the side, to the left and to the right and can always find someone who is texting or on a cell phone."

In an interview, Guerrera said he was inclined to support the Senate bill, but would have to review it.

Rep. David A. Scribner, R-Brookfield, ranking member of the committee, said that the distracted-driving portion of the large DMV bill might be the most-important section.

"We also know there needs to be encouragement for enforcement as well as encouragement for people to obey the law as a public-safety measure," he said in the House floor debate.

It would also hike the penalties for driving while operating a handheld device to $50 for a first offense, $300 for a second and $500 for third and subsequent. According to a nonpartisan analysis of the bill, last year there were 22,752 first violations, subject to $25 fines; 344 second offenses exposed to $250 fines; and 50 third and subsequent offenses liable for $400 fines.

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