Feb 232005
Authors: Sarah Rawley

Colorado lawmakers concerned about the number of accidents involving new drivers have proposed a bill to prohibit cell phone use behind the wheel by people on instructional permits.

The bill passed through the House Committee on Transportation and Energy earlier this month and is scheduled to be heard in the state Senate today.

If this bill goes into effect, driving while talking on a cell phone would become a secondary offense, where drivers must be pulled over for something else to incur a $15 fine and one-point violation.

State Rep. Michael Garcia, D-Aurora, has been addressing this issue for the past three years. In 2003 the National Transportation Safety Board recommended all 50 states adopt some form of legislation concerning cell phone use and young drivers after numerous studies and reports indicating the correlation of increasing accidents and young drivers on their cell phones.

"I absolutely believe this bill will make our roads much safer," Garcia said.

Motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, according to the National Highway Safety Administration's National Center for Statistics and Analysis. In 2003, Colorado alone had 147 teenage deaths because of motor-vehicle crashes.

The bill's supporters feel strengthening restrictions on inexperienced drivers may be the answer to reducing thousands of teen traffic deaths every year.

Garcia also believes a bill like this should not only apply to young drivers on their cell phones.

"I would support the issue for all drivers not using their cell phones. There is no support at the state Capitol, but there is some possibility in the future," Garcia said.

Rachel Dean-Ruzicka, an English graduate student, agreed the law should apply to all drivers.

"It should be outlawed altogether, unless there is an emergency, in which case you would pull over anyway. It would get people in the habit of driving safely," Dean-Ruzicka said.

Fort Collins Police Services has been pushing for a municipal charge that would double the fine on drivers making a traffic violation while on their cell phone.

"Everybody is distracted by their cell phones, it doesn't matter what age. By normal patrol we do see an increase in traffic violations with people on their cell phones," said Sgt. Russell Read of Fort Collins police.

This "enhancer" charge on traffic violations locally is still in the works.

If the bill passes in Senate, it will go to the governor for signing. It will be effective possibly in August or the beginning of next year, Garcia said.

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