Attorney General: Major John Watson, Connecticut State Police, 1990-008 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 27, 1990

Major John Watson
Executive Officer
Connecticut State Police
100 Washington Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Major Watson:

In his letter to us, Lt. Col. John A. Mulligan requested our advice concerning the use of certain closed circuit video monitoring equipment to monitor the area to the rear of certain motor vehicles. His specific question to us is "whether installation and use of such equipment violates Section 14-105 of the General Statutes or any other provision of our law." For reasons explained below, our opinion is that the use of such equipment is prohibited by Conn. Gen. Stat. e14-105 if the monitor is visible to the driver.1

According to the enclosures which accompanied Lt. Col. Mulligan's letter, the equipment to which he refers is a closed circuit monitor system called "Car Vision," which "enables the user to observe and confirm situations at the vehicle's rear. Each set comprises (sic) a TV camera, monitor, and self-contained control and power units." The manufacturer of the system claims that "[t]he Car Vision camera and monitor, unlike a conventional TV camera, do not have independent functions. The camera and monitor are designed to functions (sic) as a composite body." Thus, the monitor cannot be modified to receive a video signal from a source other than the unit's dedicated video camera.

The statute which is relevant to this inquiry, e14-105, provides as follows:

No television screen or other device of a similar nature, except a video display unit utilized for instrumentation purposes, shall be installed or used in this state in any position or location in a motor vehicle where it may be visible to the driver or where it may in any other manner interfere with the safe operation and control of the vehicle. Violation of any provision of this section shall be an infraction.

The statute contains no definition of the terms "television" or "television screen." It is well-established that "[i]n the construction of statutes, words and phrases shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language; and technical words and phrases, and such as have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning in the law, shall be construed and understood accordingly." Conn. Gen. Stat. e1-1(a). Where a statute does not define a term, it is appropriate to look to the common understanding expressed in the law and in dictionaries. Ziperstein v. Tax Commissioner, 178 Conn. 493, 500, 423 A.2d 129 (1979), Johnson v. Manson, 196 Conn. 309, 316-317, 493 A.2d 846 (1985). Webster, Third New International Dictionary, defines the word "television," in part, as "the transmission and reproduction of transient images of fixed or moving objects; specif: an electronic system of transmitting such images together with sound over a wire or through space by apparatus that converts light and sound into electrical waves and reconverts them into visible light rays and audible sound." The word "screen" is defined, in part, as "the surface upon which an image or pattern is produced in a television or radar receiver or in a similar apparatus."

In accordance with these definitions, our opinion is that the video monitoring system referred to in your letter is a "television screen or other device of a similar nature." Although the system's monitor is designed to receive signals only from a dedicated video camera, one component of the system is a monitor or screen which receives a signal and displays certain images on that monitor. Thus, if such monitor is visible to the driver, the use of the system is prohibited by e14-105.

Support for this opinion is found in the bill's legislative history. In 1984, the legislature amended e14-105 to permit the installation and use of a "video display unit utilized for instrumentation purposes." During the Senate debate on P.A. 84-215, the Act that amended e14-105, Senator DiBella remarked that:

This is a piece of legislation that has been requested by the Department of Motor Vehicles to bring into compliance the law with respect to much of the video display gadgetry that is used on the instrumentation on new automobiles. Given the fact that television or video display screens for televisions are very restrictive with respect to the use in vehicles, the video display terminals for instrumentation create a conflict between the legislation as it stands and this being amended. This will require the video display instrumentation equipment to be utilized without being in conflict with the television display legislation that prohibits televisions being viewed by the driver.

27 Sen. Proc. pt.3, 1987 Sess. 1087-88 (April 11, 1987), (Remarks of Sen. DiBella).

In a March 14, 1984 public hearing of the Transportation Committee, Peter Rosso, on behalf of the Department of Motor Vehicles, provided testimony concerning that bill as follows:

An Act Permitting the Use of Video Display Units in Motor Vehicles is our bill, currently some of the higher priced vehicles have video display units which give you the gas mileage while driving, etc. The current statute provides that no such units be displayed in the front seat of a car in response to several years ago the fad of putting televisions in automobiles. This just allows the use of the video displays that come with the automobiles.

Conn. Joint Standing Committee Hearings, Transportation, 1984 Sess., p. 585.

It seems clear that if the legislature deemed it necessary to amend e14-105 to permit the use of video units which display instrumentation information, the video monitoring system referred to in your letter is a "television screen or other device of a similar nature", the use of which is likewise prohibited by e14-105.

Very truly yours,

CLARINE NARDI RIDDLE
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Margaret Quilter Chapple
Assistant Attorney General

CNR/MQC/kl


1 You have not requested that we advise you whether the use of such equipment in law enforcement vehicles is prohibited, and this opinion does not deal with that issue.


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