Colorado passes tough penalty for texting while driving

Colorado is poised to dramatically increase the punishment for texting while driving under a bill that easily passed the state House on a 56-8 vote Monday morning.

KUSA - Colorado is poised to dramatically increase the punishment for texting while driving under a bill that easily passed the state House on a 56-8 vote Monday morning.

SB 27 increases the penalty for a first offense from a $50 fine and one point on a driver’s record -- to $300 and four points.

The measure had already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).

The governor’s spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery declined to predict whether the bill will be signed into law, but it is worth noting that Hickenlooper’s administration has made a public push to reduce distracted driving accidents in the state.

One of the bill’s sponsors State Senator Lois Court said she spoke with the governor and is confident he will sign it into law.

“Oh, absolutely,” she said.

Victims of distracted driving accidents banded together to promote the bill, which originally began with an even tougher $500 fine.

Careless driving, distracted driving has become epidemic, said Court.

The senator said the increased fine not about collecting more money but creating a deterrent.

Some hesitant Republicans in the Senate came on board when the fine was tamped down to $300 and language was included to ensure that drivers can only be issued a ticket if using a device actually led them to drive “in a careless and imprudent manner.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 3,477 people died from distracted driving that includes eating, talking to people in the car, fiddling with the radio and texting on the phone.

You look down for a second or two, you know a lot of things can happen, said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid.

He said troopers write distracted driving tickets daily for multi-tasking behind the wheel.

They're going, you know, sometimes highway speeds. Sometimes 75 miles an hour at 110 feet per second. Youre covering a lot of ground, said Reid.

While texting and actively operating a moving vehicle remains unlawful, if the bill gets the governor's signature, people could text while at a red light or stopped in traffic if they are still paying attention to their surroundings.

Thats not dangerous behavior. But if youre driving down the highway and youve got one hand on the wheel and youre doing this (looks up and down) thats dangerous behavior and youre going to kill someone if youre not really careful and it happens, it happens all too frequently, said Court.

But the bill does not give people stopped in traffic a free pass.

"Texting must be careless, so if an officer considers texting at a light to be careless he can write a ticket for it," explained Court in an emailed statement. 

Supporters hope the increased penalty will encourage police to more aggressively ticket people who text and drive.

The bill covers more than just text messaging: State law would consider any sort of interaction with a smartphone screen that leads to distracted driving to be a potential violation.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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