One state is taking a controversial new approach to the problem of texting behind the wheel that could make distracted driving even more likely. It is now perfectly legal to text in Colorado, as long as you don’t drive in “a careless or imprudent manner.”
Maile Gray, head of the state’s driver safety education program, “Drive Smart Colorado,” is concerned the state is “sending the wrong message.” Calling the new standard “a problem,” she explains, “What I find is most people just think they aren’t going to get caught, so they continue to (text) — and for the most part, they are right.”
Colorado’s new law was not passed until there was quite a bit of horse trading done. Democrat sponsors of the bill wanted to ratchet fines from $50 to $500 and add five license points instead of one on the very first offense. Republicans, including key Senator Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, said the proposal went way too far. Hill agreed to support the idea if Democrats softened the way the law was enforced. Hill did not want drivers penalized for something as harmless as sending a text message from a stationary car to say you are running a little late. He wanted the law to be aimed squarely at the ones who drive carelessly.
The compromise solution makes no changes for drivers under age 18, who cannot use a phone for voice or text at any time. For adult drivers, before an officer can write a ticket, they must personally see the driver pushing buttons on the phone. Call in reports from other drivers are not enough to make a stop. The officer must also see “careless driving” defined as operating a car “without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances,” which would include the weather. Fines were raised to $300 for a first offense and it carries four points.
It is generally up to the officer to use his own judgment on what qualifies as “careless driving,” but usually it means other prohibited behavior like speeding, unsafe lane changes, or failure to signal. Being involved in an accident, even if you are not the primary cause, is often considered automatically to be careless driving. Even if the crash was not your fault, you were likely moving too fast for current conditions or failed to control your vehicle to avoid an accident, both of which are chargeable offenses. Police are not too concerned that the changes will prevent them from enforcing the infractions. They believe they are well aware when someone is texting because their driving will be affected enough in other ways to justify a valid stop and the issuance of a ticket.
Drivers who are responsible will appear to benefit from this law right away with increased freedom to text at a traffic light or when sitting in traffic. Drivers who are not responsible will ignore the law until it affects them directly, which may not happen before they cause a serious accident, possibly injuring one of the responsible ones in the process.
Basic math shows how significant texting can be in causing accidents. According to research, it takes 4.6 seconds to send the average text. At 55 miles per hour, your car will cross the length of an entire football field without you looking at the road.
46 states have totally banned texting while driving. Arizona and Montana have no restrictions yet and in Missouri, only drivers under the age of 21 are restricted. Teen drivers in all states are especially at risk. According to the CDC, the lethal combination of the most text-addicted drivers also being the most inexperienced, makes car accidents the leading cause of death for teens.
Apple is doing something about the problem. The latest iOS 11 offers “Do Not Disturb While Driving” which limit’s the phone’s ability to send and receive messages while driving. Using Wi-Fi to detect motion by calculating Doppler shifted signals, the phone will lock to prevent distraction and send a return message automatically to let anyone trying to reach you know you are not available. If CarPlay is available, the phone is already configured to connect to the vehicle’s built-in display.