TROOPERS TRACKING LINKS BETWEEN CELL PHONE USE, CRASHES
Just about any driver can relate.
You’re behind the wheel and another driver, chatting away on a cell phone, isn’t paying attention to the road.
You steer your vehicle out of harm’s way, maybe escaping a collision, and watch as the distracted driver carries on, breaking any number of rules of the road.
Starting last year, troopers with the Colorado State Patrol began tracking incidents in which cell phone usage contributed to traffic infractions.
While it’s not illegal in Colorado to talk on cell phones while driving, the information troopers gather could add teeth to a bill wending through the Legislature that aims to ticket drivers seen gabbing and driving.
“Just the other day I stopped a guy for not signaling,” said trooper Ron Greasley.
The incident, in which the driver was using his cell phone, was added into the database.
“We would prefer it that people use both hands to drive,” Greasley said.
Troopers have long tracked whether factors such as speed, alcohol, medical conditions, careless driving and sleepiness contributed to a crash or being ticketed. But some new entries in a section considered as officers’ observations or opinions of driver error include talking or texting on a cell phone and being distracted by a passenger or a radio.
The State Patrol formerly lobbied for legislation that may keep drivers safe, Greasley said, but the agency has halted that practice. Instead, troopers around the state now are tasked with collecting data during their traffic stops and crashes, and that information may be used to instigate change.
A couple of highly publicized deaths and injuries caused when motorists were talking on cell phones in Denver may be that ticket to promote change.
“It’s unfortunate when people start losing their lives,” Greasley said.
Five other states have banned motorists from using cell phones, but those drivers may use hands-free devices. Those states are California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington.
Colorado lawmakers recently advanced a bill that would restrict motorists from using handheld cell phones, making it a Class A traffic infraction with a fine up to $100. House Bill 1094 would prohibit teens, school bus drivers and cab drivers from using cell phones. Other drivers can use hands-free devices. The bill passed the Colorado House Transportation Committee Feb. 2 and is headed to the House Appropriations Committee.
If the bill passes, Greasley said there likely would be a grace period in which troopers would warn and not ticket motorists for using handheld cell phones while driving.
Greasley said the first thing he looks for is whether motorists are wearing their seat belts, so catching drivers talking on the phone shouldn’t be much harder.