Thu March 13, 2014

Distracted Driving Bill Falls In House Committee

A bill to ban talking on cell phones while driving failed in the House Transportation Committee Wednesday with two Democrats joining Republicans in defeating the measure.

Bente Birkeland reports from the state capitol

Emotional at times, lawmakers in the hearing were brought to tears after Shelly Forney from Fort Collins testified about her 9-year-old daughter Erica’s death. She was biking near her home when a woman talking on her phone while driving hit her.

“This driver didn’t even know she hit her, she just felt a bump,” said Forney. “She didn’t use her brakes and didn’t know what had happened. We learned from investigators this happened because she was finishing a phone call and had no idea the car had drifted into the bike lane where my daughter was.”

"There are lots of things that are distractions, kids screaming, a Coke spilling, changing the radio station. I don't quite understand why we're just focusing on the cell phone."

House bill 1225 [.pdf] would have fined people $100 for talking on cell phones in school and construction zones. Fines would rise for a second offense and would also be issued if talking on a mobile phone caused an accident. Drivers could use hands free devices.

“Some of the stories broke my heart and terrified me because I’m guilty of distracted driving,” said Representative Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City).

Moreno though was one of the two Democrats who voted against the bill. He questions whether it was substantive enough to make a difference.

“I’m concerned that it’s only a primary offense in school and construction zones, that the penalties don’t go far enough,” said Moreno.

No Republicans on the committee supported the bill. Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park) worries it wouldn’t solve the problem.

“There are lots of things that are distractions, kids screaming, a Coke spilling, changing the radio station. I don’t quite understand why we’re just focusing on the cell phone,” said Lawrence.

Other laymakers, including Representative Diane Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs) say while not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

“This bill may save one or two lives, but even if it’s one life, that’s immeasurable,” said Bush.

A similar proposal failed in the statehouse in 2009. The bill was eventually watered down to a ban on text messaging while driving. Currently 12 states require drivers to use hands free devices.