For several years now, I have been working with Colorado Senator Lois Court to make it illegal to text while driving in Colorado. We’ve had our ups and downs in this battle but I believe momentum and public sentiment are behind us as we gear up for another attempt to pass stricter hands-free laws in 2019.
Before I share a bit of history around this issue and the reasons I’m so passionate about it, I want to recognize Michael Roberts, a reporter at Westword, for digging into Denver’s road safety challenges and concerns. He’s written multiple articles, including the following:
- Denver’s Longest Traffic Signal and Wait Times on Major Routes
- Denver’s Fight to Prevent Total Traffic Gridlock Downtown
- Denver’s Ten Most Dangerous Intersections
- Denver Traffic Deaths on Pace for One of the Highest Totals This Century
- Denver Hit-and-Runs: Most Dangerous Days of the Week
- Most Dangerous Times of the Day to Drive in Denver
I’ve always believed in the Fourth Estate in our country – journalism – and I believe that Mr. Roberts is an excellent example of why we need good journalists to help us see the forest through the trees. Without his investigations and reporting, we might all be sitting in our cars thinking, “Traffic sucks!” but we wouldn’t be able to understand the implications of unsafe roads on a larger scale, beyond our own experiences.
Most recently, Mr. Roberts reached out to me about our next run at passing stricter texting-while-driving laws in Colorado and he wrote an article titled, “Why Texting While Driving is Still Legal in Colorado and the Fight for Change.” Here is an excerpt:
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.”
In 2017, 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. (Can you imagine that the fine was ever as low as $50?) I was very proud to be associated with this legislation.
And yet, those of us involved are still unsatisfied with Colorado’s laws. We would like to see our state join the 16 others that prohibit all drivers from using hand-held electronics while driving. (No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by teen drivers and 21 states and D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers.)
Therefore, earlier this year (2018), 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 anymobile electronic device while driving, with an exception for adults who use hands-free technologies, such as Bluetooth.
As Mr. Roberts reported in his story:
“What we were trying to do is get people to not use their phones, whether texting or calling, unless it was through Bluetooth or the speaker system in their car,” O’Sullivan explains. “That way, they won’t have the phone or device in their hand. And we wanted to make the penalties stiffer, so that we could deter the sort of distracted driving that’s occurring on a daily basis.”
There was plenty of support for this approach outside the General Assembly, O’Sullivan points out. “Organizations that were behind it included Bicycle Colorado, Vision Zero, Bike Denver, BikerDown, which is a nonprofit for injured motorcycle drivers, and CORD [Coloradans Organized for Responsible Driving], which Susan Dane founded to fight against distracted driving and promote safety for motorcycle riders. And it was also supported by AAA Colorado and CDOT [the Colorado Department of Transportation], which gave compelling statistics about why it’s so important to limit and decrease distracted driving on our roads.”
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.
I’ve already met with Senator Court and we are working on a few tweaks to the legislation. She plans to reintroduce it for the upcoming term. For my part, I plan to muster even more voices of people who want Colorado’s roads to be safer for all.
Why am I doing this? I can’t NOT do it. In my work, I see so many people’s lives destroyed by careless, distracted drivers. I can’t just keep talking to these people without doing something to prevent this type of accident in the first place.
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 to the committee when the time comes.
Let’s make Colorado’s roads safer. (And by the way, let’s lead by example! Don’t wait for a law to mandate it: put your phone away when you’re behind the wheel.)