Woman using cell phone while driving

Currently, adult drivers in Colorado are allowed to use cellphones for calls, but they cannot text or browse the internet. Senate Bill 175 would prohibit all hand-held cellphone use while driving. 

A Senate committee unanimously advanced legislation Tuesday to ban adults from talking on cellphones while driving, except for when using a hands-free accessory.

Currently, adult drivers in Colorado are allowed to use cellphones for calls, but they cannot text or browse the internet. If passed, Senate Bill 175 would prohibit all hand-held cellphone use while driving. Drivers under 18 already are prohibited from all cellphone use, including hands-free.

“I have been hit twice by a distracted driver,” said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver. “This is a bill that, at its heart, is about improving the culture of safety in the state. ... The basic principle here is that folks need to have their hands free so they can safely operate their vehicle.”

Last year, 91% of Coloradans admitted to driving while distracted, according to a survey from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The survey found that 54% of drivers said they read text messages while driving and nearly 50% talk on cellphones without hands-free accessories .

In 2020, there were 10,166 car crashes involving distracted drivers in Colorado, resulting in 1,476 injuries and 68 deaths, CDOT says. In 2021, there was a 47% increase in fatal crashes caused by distracted driving statewide, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved the bill, 5-0, following testimony from several victims of crashes caused by distracted driving. 

Colorado panel advances reporting requirements for health care sharing ministries

“I was rear-ended three times within a six-month period,” said Northglenn resident Bob Frank, adding that one driver was talking on the phone and two were texting. “One driver, when I got out to check to see if they were OK, their response was, ‘I gotta hang up, I just hit somebody.’ They hadn’t even put their phone down yet.” 

Boulder resident Craig Towler said he lost both legs after he was crushed between two cars in 2016. He said the crash was caused by a distracted driver who crashed into a parked car behind Towler, pushing it forward and pinning him between it and his own car, which he was unloading.

“Though I am thankful to be alive today, my life was changed forever,” Towler said. “What happened to me is preventable. ... We can no longer sit on the sidelines watching people be killed knowing that there is a solution. And if we do nothing, we only have ourselves to blame when the next person is killed in a crash that could’ve been prevented.”

Under the bill, a driver caught using their cellphone would get a $75 fine and two license suspension points for the first offense. If a driver gets another citation within 24 months, they would face a $150 fine and three points for the second offense, and a $250 fine and four points for all subsequent offenses.

The fines and points could be waived if the driver proves to the court they have bought a hands-free device, Hansen said.

White-collar DaVita trial kicks off with competing interpretations of corporate agreements

Drivers exempt from the bill would include first responders, utility workers, commercial truckers, commercial license holders, drivers using their cellphones to report emergencies, and drivers who are lawfully parked.

“The bill is about saving lives,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, the other bill sponsor. “So much can go wrong when you take your eyes away from the road. ... We’re trying to shift the culture and the mindset as it relates to having a hand-held device while you’re driving. We’re asking people to wait.”

Using hand-held cellphones while driving is already banned in 24 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Colorado lawmakers have tried to ban talking on the phone while driving at least three other times. In 2020, Hansen sponsored SB 20-65, which is nearly identical to the new SB-175. Hansen’s predecessor, Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, also pushed similar bills in 2018 and 2019.

The most recent bill in 2020 passed the state Senate but was rejected in a House committee due to concerns that it would result in disproportionate policing and racial profiling. Hansen said he updated the bill this year to include demographic reporting and a requirement that police cannot issue the citation unless they explicitly see a driver using their phone.

Load comments