Texting is a relatively new phenomenon. Although mobile phones have had the ability to send texts for many years, it’s only with the advent of the smartphone that many people have started to take advantage of the speed and convenience of sending text messages. This means texting while driving is also a fairly recent phenomenon, but over the past decade or so, it has become very clear that it is a dangerous practice with potentially devastating consequences.
Most states have enacted laws to prohibit sending text messages while driving, and Colorado joined their ranks in 2009 when then-Governor Bill Ritter signed Colorado’s first law regarding cell phone usage while driving. As it stands in 2014, Colorado law prohibits all drivers from sending text messages, including tweets and emails. Drivers under the age of 18 and drivers with a learner’s permit are prohibited from any cell phone usage while driving. The only exceptions are for drivers who fear for their safety, who witness a criminal act, to report a fire or road accident, or to report a reckless driver. Adults over the age of 18 who are not on a learner’s permit can only use cell phones while driving with hands-free devices, such as headsets and Bluetooth devices.
While any kind of distractions while driving need to be avoided, texting poses an especially serious problem. As reported by ColoradoLaw.net, there are three primary kinds of distractions for drivers:
- Visual (taking the eyes off the road)
- Manual (letting go of the steering wheel)
- Cognitive (thinking about something other than driving).
Texting has the dubious and especially dangerous distinction of providing all three distractions – visual, manual, and cognitive – all at the same time. When younger or less experienced drivers engage in texting while they drive, the potential for distractions and serious accidents is all the higher.
Despite the dangers, many teenage drivers admit to texting while driving. Worse, even more adults may be guilty of sending texts while driving. A 2013 study by mobile carrier AT&T reports that 49 percent of commuters send texts while driving, compared to 43 percent of teens. This is true even though 98 percent of survey respondents say they know texting and driving is dangerous. Three years ago, six out of 10 drivers reported that they had never texted while driving, so despite the recognized risks, texting while driving appears to be on the rise.
Laws such as those put into place in Colorado are trying to help. The law restricting cell phone use makes it a Class A traffic offense to text while driving. First-time offenders are fined $50, and second-time offenders are fined $100. An officer needs to witness the offense in order to issue a ticket. Texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning an officer can pull over a driver and issue a ticket without witnessing any other traffic violation. These fines make texting while driving an expensive proposition, over and above the inherent risks in sending a text message while driving. Drivers are urged to pull over to a safe place and park the car before reading or responding to any text messages. Adults can set a good example for their teenaged kids by never sending a text while driving, as well as talking to their teenagers about the dangers of doing so.
Colorado’s initial ban was signed into law months after 9-year-old Erica Forney was fatally hit by a distracted driver. Since then, the phenomenon of texting while driving has only become more prevalent, with over a million car crashes every year associated with cell phone use while driving. Drivers in Colorado are safer because of Colorado’s texting while driving ban, but the law only goes so far. Until texting while driving is recognized as the danger it is, and many people give it up, the risk of terrible accidents caused by distracted, texting drivers will continue.