May 032009
 
Authors: Stephen Lin

You are on a cell phone talking to a friend and driving down the highway. Suddenly, the red-and-blue flashing lights of a police car appear in the rearview mirror. What happened? Your lights work; you weren’t speeding or driving recklessly.

But you were talking on a cell phone. The officer writes you a ticket and leaves you to pay the bill. Starting this December, that scenario may become a reality if Colorado’s proposed cell phone ban passes.

Last Tuesday, House Bill 1094, which will prohibit anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving and will require those 18 or older to use a hands-free accessory, was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 6-4 vote.

Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, a co-sponsor of the legislation, called driving and talking on a phone “one of the most dangerous behaviors.”

Under the proposed legislation, drivers can only use a cell phone in an emergency, such as reporting a fire or traffic accident, or if their car is not moving. They can also use a hands-free accessory such as a Bluetooth device or plug-in headset.

The bill gained momentum after Michelle Smith, 36, distracted by her cell phone, hit and killed nine-year-old Fort Collins resident Erica Forney in November of last year. Erica Forney’s mother Shelley Forney testified before the committees in the House and the Senate to encourage support of the bill.

In 2006, the Colorado State Patrol investigated and categorized over 33,300 crashes. Each crash is given a “causal factor”: The error that caused the crash to occur. Inattentiveness to driving, which involves talking on a phone or eating while driving, led the list at 7,430 crashes. Next most was “exceeded safe speed” at 5,035 accidents.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also reported that drivers using cell phones are “four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves” than drivers who don’t.

If passed, violating the ban will be a class-A violation, which merits a $50 fine for the first violation and a $100 fine for the second. It has not yet been determined how many points will be taken off driver’s license.

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, the House majority deputy whip who co-sponsored the bill “to help address this serious safety issue,” said he would prefer the bill completely ban cell phone usage while driving and said evidence supports such a move.

In 2006, University of Utah psychologists found that drivers who use hands-free devices are just as impaired as drunken drivers and found the difference between driving with a cell phone in hand versus driving with a hands-free cell phone was not significant.

Fischer said it is doubtful such a full ban could pass the legislature at this time, but Kefalas was optimistic about the current bill’s benefits saying, “We should see improved public safety on the road,” if the legislation passed.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Loveland, disagreed and said the law will probably be ineffective.

“We will see a great deal of noncompliance, a big jump in Bluetooth device sales and about the same level of driver attentiveness as we have today,” Lundberg predicted.

Many CSU students said they support the legislation.

Renee Hansen, a freshman undeclared major, was vocal in her support for the bill and said it “should be passed across America.”

“There are some good things that’ll come out of it,” Ian Gustafson, a sophomore theater major, agreed.

Other students, such as William Tolvo, a sophomore psychology major, noted potential problems with the bill, in spite of their support.

“It’s not going to cut down on the attention factor, but at least they’ll have their hands where they should be,” Tolvo said.

If the bill passes, it will take effect Dec. 1.

Staff Writer Stephen Lin can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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