Denver Auto Accident AttorneyDo you own a cell phone?  Do you use it while driving?  If the answer is yes, and you live in Colorado, there is a bill in the state legislature that may affect you.

Senate Bill 19-012, also known as “Use of Electronic Mobile Devices While Driving Act” has recently passed the Senate and moved to the Appropriations Committee.  If enacted, it would impose what is essentially a ban on the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.  Currently, Colorado law prohibits the use of mobile devices while driving for minors.  Adults may not use a mobile device to transmit data (text or browse the internet) if the activity causes them to drive in a “careless or imprudent” way.

But with distracted driving to blame for about 40 crashes per day in Colorado, proponents of the bill say current law does not go far enough.  If passed, Senate Bill 19-012 would:

  • Ban the use of all mobile devices while driving for drivers of all ages.
  • Increase penalties: $300 and 4 points for a first violation, with increased penalties for each subsequent violation.
  • Create an exception to the prohibition for drivers who use a mobile electronic device while a hands-free accessory is engaged, like Bluetooth speakers.

What Proponents of the Law Say

If passed, the law would be similar to legislation in 16 other states than prohibits using a hand-held phone while driving.  Proponents say public opinion is on their side.  They argue that while most people realize smartphones and driving don’t mix, most people still cannot resist touching their screens.  Science tells us smartphones deliver a dopamine hit, they say, and so the devices should be treated like alcohol and drugs.  When it comes to smartphones, drivers need, and want, a legal threat to behave well.

Perhaps.

However, before we add more laws to the books, let’s make sure we consider the consequences.  Cell phones are a part of life.  We are expected to carry them, and answer them.  Would this law discriminate against people who are unable to afford, say, Bluetooth speakers and traffic tickets?  Further, most “hands free” systems still require you to touch your screen to make, or answer, a call.  Even if your Bluetooth system is working, you may need to pick up your phone to answer a call from the school nurse, or check a map, or (less urgently, but still) change a playlist.  Could you be ticketed for that?

According to Scott O’Sullivan, one of the bill’s most vocal advocates, the answer is yes.  Westword magazine quotes him as saying: “If an officer sees you with a mobile device in your hand, he or she can pull you over for that.”  And “What we’d like to see in the future would be the Colorado State Patrol and local departments doing mobile phone checkpoints almost the way they do DUI checkpoints.” 

Mobile phone checkpoints?

If that idea gives you pause, congratulations.  You’re normal.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) virtually everyone uses their phone at some point while driving.  During a typical daylight moment, 5.3 percent of drivers are using some type of phone, either handheld or hands-free.  If this law would amount to a total ban on mobile devices used by adult drivers, then it risks criminalizing not only poverty, but normal behavior.

Now.  We’re not saying distracted driving is OK.  It is not, whether the distraction is a cell phone, a dog, or a cheeseburger.

Not all distractions are the same…

But most drivers realize (and studies continue to show) that not all distractions are the same.  Texting while driving is by far the most dangerous smartphone activity, contributing to almost 25% of car accidents.  But texting while driving is already illegal.  If we really want to solve the problem of distracted driving, would another law really help?  How about a public awareness campaign, or cell phone parking lots off I-25, or subsidies for hands free tech?

Proceed with caution!

Even one death via distracted driving is tragic, and the United States averages 9 per day.  But over-legislation creates victims too.  Let’s proceed with caution, or we may create a standard of behavior so high no one can reach it.

Article by Molly Fuscher