A new Colorado “texting while driving” and “yakking on the phone while driving” law goes into effect at midnight. Starting on the 1st of December, under the new law, it is a criminal offense to text or otherwise enter data into a mobile device, from behind the wheel, while the vehicle is in motion. The new law also prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone at all while behind the wheel, hands-free or not.
Because the new law classifies texting while driving, or calling while driving if under 18, as a “primary offense”, police officers are empowered to pull you over based solely on the fact that they see you violating this law. In other words, if a police officer sees you texting, or someone under 18 using their phone while behind the wheel, they can pull you over, and ticket you.
Violation of this new law will cost you $50.00 for the first offense, but rapidly increases to $100 for additional offenses, and of course repeated violation of the law (any law) opens the door to all sorts of other legal consequences.
Said Colorado Representative Claire Levy, a sponsor of the new law, “It is inherently dangerous to multitask while you drive. This bill is aimed at the most dangerous distraction commonly engaged in: text messaging and e-mailing while driving.”
The new law was introduced in part in response to a series of fatal accidents in which texting or cell phone use behind the wheel was a factor.
Lamented Shelley Forney, mother of 9-year-old Erica Forney who was killed in just such an accident, “The convenience of having a cell phone in a car is not worth my daughter’s life.”
But not all lawmakers laud the new law. “It seems we’re picking out one distraction because it’s politically expedient to do so,” observed Colorado Representative Frank McNulty.
And Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle observes that it will be difficult to enforce the law, requiring police officers to have to guess at the age of young drivers who are making calls behind the wheel.
Says Pelle, “You can’t tell exactly how old they are, or whether they’re dialing a phone number” (instead of texting), adding, “The reality is, what’s the difference?”
And that is, indeed, a very good question. And not just because it may be hard for police officers to know the difference, but because a strict reading of the new law also makes dialing a phone, while driving, illegal.
The new law states that “For drivers 18 years of age and older, wireless telephones may not be used for text messaging or other similar forms of manual data entry or transmission.”
It’s that “other similar forms of manual data entry” about which we are speaking, because, quite arguably, entering a phone number on a cell phone is a form of manual data entry, and we predict that this will be tested in court when someone gets a ticket for texting, they claim they were “just dialing”, and the issuing agency presses the issue – “Hey, dialing is a form of manual data entry.”
Anyone want to suggest that it isn’t?
Pelle says that his officers will, as they always have, focus on stopping people for “bad driving”, saying that “The problem is people driving while they’re distracted. It’s pretty prolific. When you drive around and you just look at the number of people with their heads down. I think what we need to do is focus on pulling people over and writing tickets for bad driving.”
Of course, “bad driving” is in the eye of the beholder, and doesn’t have a legal definition.
Speaking of which, here is the text of the summary from the new law:
Motor vehicle safety and operation. House Bill 09-1094 imposes new statutory restrictions regarding the use of a cellular phone device while operating a motor vehicle.
For drivers 18 years of age and older, wireless telephones may not be used for text messaging or other similar forms of manual data entry or transmission.
Drivers under 18 years of age may not use wireless telephones for any purpose. Exceptions are provided for persons using a phone during an emergency or to contact a public safety entity.
Violations of this law are punishable by a class A traffic infraction and a $50 fine.
Subsequent violations incur a class A traffic infraction and a $100 fine. The bill takes effect on December 1, 2009.