State Sen. Lois Court is on a mission. For the past three years, the Denver Democrat has led an effort at the state Capitol to get Colorado motorists to pay more attention to their driving than to their cellphones.
She struck paydirt in 2017, persuading the General Assembly to green light a bill boosting the fines for texting while driving from $50 to $300 and four points on a license. The bill was signed into law later that spring. Since then, the number of texting violations has dropped from a high of 1,473 in 2016 to 481 last year.
But another effort -- to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel instead of the cellphone -- failed to gain traction in that session and the one that followed. Both bills died in the Republican-controlled state Senate; at the time, Sen. Owen Hill told the Denver Post the measure went "too far in replacing personal liberty with fines, fees and regulations."
With Democrats now controlling both the legislative and executive branch, Court believes the third time's the charm, and she's hoping lawmakers will agree to ban the holding of cellphones or other electronic devices while a vehicle is in motion.
Senate Bill 12 doesn't ban the use of cellphones in a vehicle. It would, however, mandate that drivers use either a hands-free accessory, like a mount, for a cellphone or other device, or keep both hands on the wheel.
"Using a cellphone is not illegal" under her bill, Court said. "It's holding it while driving" that's the issue she's trying to address.
For example, a person could be talking on the phone and start to skid on an icy roadway, and that would likely require full attention and both hands. The same sort of distraction exists when someone is driving with a cellphone in one hand and entering a phone number with the other, she said.
There are a number of ways drivers can be distracted while driving that have nothing to do with cellphones, Court said. But the most egregious, according to the State Patrol, is cellphones.
The bill has a number of carve-outs: if a person is a first responder, or is reporting road rage, for example, that would be OK. The measure also doesn't apply to truckers, because federal law is much tougher on this issue, Court said.
Under SB 12, talking and driving could earn a motorist a $300 fine and four points on the driver's license. A second violation could earn a fine of $500 and six points on the license, and a third or subsequent violation could cost a driver $750 and eight points on the license.
A standard driver's license in Colorado has a limit of 12 points over a three-year period before it can be suspended.
The bill applies to more than just cellphones; Court told Colorado Politics that some people even use laptops when driving. That's not OK under her bill, nor is using electronic games, tablets, pagers or similar devices.
"Both hands should be free" when a vehicle is in motion, Court said. "A car is not a moving phone booth."
In Colorado, according to the Department of Public Safety, distracted drivers cause an average of 40 crashes a day; in 2016, 67 people died because of distracted-driving accidents. The biggest offenders: Those between the ages of 21 and 30, who cause about 29 percent of the accidents.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 16 states already have a ban on cellphone use while driving as a primary offense, meaning a person can be pulled over for that offense alone.
Court said the bill is supported by various groups representing cyclists, motorcyclists and the disabled as well as insurance companies and AAA.
The Colorado State Patrol and Department of Transportation both backed her 2018 measure but have not yet weighed in on the 2019 effort. The only outside opposition to Court's 2018 effort was from the American Civil Liberties Union.
SB 12 will be heard in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Its House sponsor is Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora.