By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Starting Tuesday, it becomes a crime in Colorado for drivers under the age of 18 to use any cell phone — handheld or not — while driving. It also becomes illegal for any driver to text while behind the wheel.
“It is inherently dangerous to multitask while you drive,” said a statement from Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “This bill is aimed at the most dangerous distraction commonly engaged in: text messaging and e-mailing while driving.”
The Denver Police Department (DPD) has issued a training bulletin to its officers about the law going into effect on Tuesday, according to spokesman Sonny Jackson. He said that identifying drivers who are texting or minors who are talking on their cell phones would present challenges for officers.
“We have to look at this and see how it’s going to play out,” he said. “But we are charged with enforcing it, so we will have to do that.”
A series of serious car-related accidents led lawmakers to consider placing more restrictions on drivers and cell phones. Patrick Sims, a Colorado high school senior, killed a 63-year-old man because he was sending a text message while driving. Nine-year-old Erica Forney in Fort Collins was killed by a cell phone-using driver.
“The convenience of having a cell phone in a car is not worth my daughter’s life,” said Shelley Forney, Erica’s mom, during a February committee hearing on possible legislation that would restrict Colorado drivers from using cell phones. But the version of House Bill 1094 that passed and will become law on Tuesday is much less strict than the measure several lawmakers originally wanted to pass. At first, Levy was looking to implement a sweeping ban on talking on a hand-held cell phone for all drivers.
Motorists on cell phones exhibit the reaction speed and coordination of drivers that have had four alcoholic drinks, and are four times more likely to be in an accident than a person who isn’t on their cell phone, according to the Colorado Democrat office.
However, a complete ban on drivers using cell phones was bound to face steep opposition in the Senate and possibly not pass at all. Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, for one, argued in February that there are too many potential driving distractions for lawmakers to attack them individually. He added that the focus should be on teaching drivers to be responsible on the road.
“It seems we’re picking out one distraction because it’s politically expedient to do so,” he said.
While Levy said in June that she would have preferred a sweeping ban on cell phones for drivers, she believes the watered down version of her bill is a step in the right direction.
“It is definitely better to have something than nothing,” she said in June. “It helps to raise the awareness of drivers that using their cell phone for any purpose is a hazard, and even though all we could get through was a ban on text messaging, I think that the debate has raised a lot of awareness about the safety issues associated with using your cell phone while driving.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters