It's not Groundhog Day, but to the coalition that backs a ban on drivers holding cellphones while driving, it kind of had that feel to it.
The coalition, which includes bicyclists, motorcycle riders, pedestrians and the disabled, joined together one more time to encourage the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee to pass Senate Bill 65, which would allow drivers to use cellphones only if they can do so with hands-free accessories.
Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, picked up the bill, carried for the past three sessions by his predecessor, Sen. Lois Court, who resigned in January due to ill health. The Senate committee greenlighted the bill on a 5-0 vote Tuesday.
You've heard the stories before about the dangers of distracted driving. One woman recounted that she almost lost three members of her family. Their vehicle was struck by another, driven by a woman who dropped her phone mid-text, and "it was too important" for her to pick up her phone than to pay attention to her driving, said Laurie Taggart of Coloradans Organized for Responsible Driving . All were injured, and the texting woman most severely, she said.
"Our philosophy is educate, don't legislate," said Carol Downs of Abate of Colorado, which provides education to motorcycle riders. "But education on distracted driving doesn't work...We need to do something to stop this."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 3,166 people died in 2017 due to distracted driving. And while overall, fatalities in auto accidents have declined, the number of people — cyclists, motorcycle riders and pedestrians — who have died due to distracted driving is actually on the uptick, according to Jack Todd of Bicycle Colorado. "Cars are getting safer for people inside them, not outside them," he told the committee.
Insurance rates are soaring in part because of distracted driving. Dan Jablan of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association said that nationwide, distracted driving adds $40 billion annually to insurance premiums.
So does that mean that insurance rates would go down if the law was passed? asked Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.
Actually, yes. According to Susan Downs, also of CORD, in Georgia, one of 20 states that has enacted similar laws, insurance premiums have gone down in the year since the law passed. And so have the number of claims tied to auto collisions and the number of fatal accidents.
Driving is not a multitasking activity, Downs added. No one testified against the bill.
SB 65 now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Court tried in 2018 and 2019 to persuade lawmakers to follow the lead of other states, but the bill died, in part due to the higher fines initially proposed. The 2020 legislation, which Court introduced before she resigned, sets a fine of $50 and 2 points on the driver's license for a first violation, $100 and 2 points for the second violation, and $200 and 4 points for a third or subsequent violation. If the violation involves texting, it's $300 and 4 points on the license.