For several years now, I have been working with Susan Dane of CORD
and with Colorado Senator Lois Court to end distracted driving in Colorado. We’ve had some successes: it is now illegal to text while driving in Colorado and we were able to increase the fines last year to levels that should change behaviors.
This year, we want to make it illegal to hold your phone while driving. We want people to have two hands on the wheel.
On January 24, 2019, we (along with many others) testified before the Colorado Transportation and Motor Vehicles Committee in support of a new bill sponsored by Senator Court. It would make it a primary offense to hold any hand-held device while your vehicle is moving. If a cop sees you holding your phone while driving, he or she could pull you over and give you a ticket. The idea, of course, is that people need to have both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
Shockingly, we faced boggling questions from the senators, who asked questions like, “Are we going to make it impossible for people to talk on the phone in the car?” or “My dad has a flip phone. How will he make calls?” These questions suggest that the senators believe that we SHOULD be talking on the phone in the car. (And the answer is, No, we are not making it illegal to talk on the phone in your car. People who must make calls can easily use hands-free technology.)
But these senators kept holding their phones up and mimicking calling and driving and asking, “How do I do this without using my hands?” They don’t understand that we all need to stop calling!
Another Senator said, “My parents live in poverty. These fines would be impossible for them to pay.” Even the ACLU sent an attorney to testify in opposition of the bill because they believe the fines are too stiff.
Finally, Susan Dane from CORD got up to the microphone delivered the best line of the session: “It is 100% free to NOT use your phone in your car.” People clapped!
So, there is good news and bad news regarding the status of the bill. It wasn’t killed, but it wasn’t passed. We are going to make changes that we hope will bring consensus and we’ll bring it back to the committee.
How Did We Get Here?
Let me provide a little history: Back in 2017, Susan Dane, Senator Court and I collaborated on a bill titled, “The Increase Penalty for Texting While Driving Act,” which increased the penalty for adults found guilty of distracted driving from $50 to $300. It passed, and we were thrilled. However, those of us involved were and are still unsatisfied with Colorado’s laws.
As Michael Roberts wrote in his Westword article titled, “Why Texting While Driving is Still Legal in Colorado and the Fight for Change.”
Despite plenty of evidence that texting while driving is dangerous and can be fatal, it’s still legal in Colorado to do so for those eighteen and older. But while efforts to make hands-free driving the law of the state have fallen short so far, advocates are already gearing up for another fight, and this time they’re determined to win.
Distracted driving caused by people thumbing their phones “has to stop or be decreased in a meaningful way,” says attorney Scott O’Sullivan. “The costs on society, on our medical system and on people’s lives — on the lives of husbands, wives, their kids, their family members, on everyone who has to take care of people who are devastated by injuries caused by this — are just too high.”
We would like to see Colorado join the 16 others that prohibit all drivers from using hand- held electronics while driving. Therefore, last year (2018), Susan and I worked again with Senator Court on a bill titled “The Use of Mobile Electronic Devices While Driving Act.” This bill would have made Colorado a hands-free state. In a nutshell, this bill would have made it illegal to use any mobile electronic device while driving, with an exception for adults who use hands-free technologies, such as Bluetooth.
What happened to that bill? As Michael Roberts reported in Westword…
There was plenty of support for this approach outside the General Assembly…
Nonetheless, the bill was scheduled to be heard by the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee, which is frequently referred to by General Assembly insiders as the “kill committee.” And in this case, the panel lived up to its nickname. The measure was defeated in a party-line vote.
But guess what? You can’t keep a good cause down! We are back at it for the 2019 session and we hope, with tweaks, a new version of the bill will be passed this year.
If you would like to add your voice to the cause, text me at 303-388-5304. I will be keeping a master list of people who would be willing to show up and speak.
Let’s make Colorado’s roads safer.
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