Woman using cell phone while driving

The latest attempt to prohibit drivers from using cellphones while in traffic has cleared the state Senate and moves on to the House.

Senate Bill 65 won a 25-9 vote from the state Senate Friday. It also won unanimous support from the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on Feb. 11.

Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, picked up the bill that was originally introduced by his predecessor, Senate President Pro tem Lois Court, D-Denver, who resigned in January after being hit with Guillain-Barré Syndrome in December.  

Under the bill, motorists cannot hold or use a cellphone while driving unless the phone is placed into a hands-free device, or the driver is using headphones or earbuds. 

The bill exempts truck drivers, as they already are prohibited from using cellphones while driving under heavy penalties from the federal government. Members of the Civil Air Patrol are also exempted from the bill. 

It also allows drivers to use cellphones to report an emergency or when the car is parked or on the shoulder of a road. 

Penalties for violations start at $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $200 for the third or subsequent offenses. However, if the violation includes sending text messages, the fine is $300 and four points on the license. A law enforcement officer must witness the violation for the ticket to be written.

Hansen told the Senate Friday that he brings warm greeting from Court, who is home from rehab. She said in an email to supporters this week that she recovered faster than expected and that “I have never understood better the saying, ‘There’s no place like home!’”

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, says he is opposed to more fines and that drivers are taking care of the problem without more laws. He called the bill "punitive." But Senate President Pro tem Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, said one study called the impact of distracted driving from using a cellphone more risky than a DUI. "We want our roads to be as safe as possible." 

Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, enjoys riding motorcycles but said he has given it up because too many people can't control their behavior with cell phones. People are addicted to those devices and they can't put them down, he said. "Whatever is going on on that little screen is more important than what's going on on the highways," he said. In announcing his "yes" vote, Holbert said it's time for the state to treat that behavior more like drunk driving. 

The bill is supported by insurance companies, motorcycle and bicycle riders and those from the disability community.

SB 65 now heads to the House, where it is sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle.

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