In the wake of what some state officials have dubbed a distracted driving epidemic, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill at the beginning of June attaching harsher penalties to texting while driving. According to the new law, drivers caught texting could face up to $300 per offense in addition to four points on their driver’s license. That’s a fairly sharp increase relative to the previous law which imposed a maximum fine of $100 and one point. Some have been quick to highlight a provision providing a way out for certain texters. According to the provision, drivers who are texting must also be driving in a “careless and imprudent manner.”
In 2016, there were 605 fatal car accidents in Colorado. And according to the CDC, 1,161 people are harmed and eight are killed every day as a result of distracted driving. Additionally, between 2012 and 2015, there were approximately 57,000 automobile accidents linked to distractions. That’s about 40 collisions every day. Specifically, in Colorado, there were 15,574 such accidents in 2015 in addition to 68 fatalities, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
It may come as no surprise that this behavior is fairly widespread. According to a CDOT survey, 64 percent of respondents admitted to using their phones for entertainment purposes; 22 percent for text messaging; and 33 percent for old-fashioned phone conversations. And the CDC reported that 31 percent of drivers in the US used their phones while driving during the month prior to taking the survey.
So why do we engage in such dangerous behavior? Sam Cole, a spokesman for CDOT, offered his two cents to the Denver Post: “I think people don’t understand the real danger when they take their eyes off the road.” He continued, “We know that an accident happens in an instant and unless you’re ready to respond, it could have tragic consequences. If you’re going 65, 70 miles per hour and take your eyes off the road to read a message, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field and a lot can happen in that time.”
Some haven take issue with the new law’s provision preventing law enforcement from giving citations to drivers if it can’t be shown that the driver was exhibiting careless driving habits in addition to texting. What constitutes careless driving? According to the law, a driver is careless if he or she drives “without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstance.” Tim Lane of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council put it this way to the Denver Post: “The simple fact is that if you are texting while driving but not being careless, it’s no longer illegal.”
Maile Gray, who runs Drive Smart Colorado, expressed frustration with the provision in the same Denver Post article, saying, “What I find is most people just think they aren’t going to get caught, so they continue to (text) — and for the most part, they are right.”
We’ll have to give the law time to have an impact before jumping to conclusions about its effectiveness. In the meantime, it’s pretty clear that distracted driving in all its forms – whether it’s tuning the radio, dealing with children or texting – is very dangerous. In fact, according to some sources, driving while texting is tantamount to driving while intoxicated. We can only hope that more is done on the national level.
Law firms like Jeffress Law, PC, are equipped to handle injury cases caused by distracted drivers. If you feel you’ve been the victim of a collision caused by someone else’s negligence, you should call an attorney with experience representing victims of distracted driving.