Feb 242005
 
Authors: Sarah Rawley

Colorado lawmakers concerned about the number of accidents involving new drivers, proposed a bill to prohibit the use of cell phones behind the wheel by people on instructional permits through the House Committee on Transportation and Energy earlier this month, and are scheduled to hear the bill in 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 due to motor vehicle crashes.

Supporters of the bill 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 apply to not just 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 or driving safely," Dean-Ruzicka said.

Presently the Fort Collins Police Department has been pushing for a municipal charge that would double the fine on drivers making a traffic violation 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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