Colorado Legalizes Another Vice: Texting While Driving

from the with-a-little-context dept

Distracted driving laws and the crusade against distractions in the car have a history that goes back many years. Generally, the trend has been to try to ban each new distraction that comes along, and to seek to place the blame on device makers and automakers for not figuring out how to reliably disable those devices. There was even a ruling in California that made it illegal for a driver to use a mapping app. But now, the state of Colorado has done something unexpected, and perhaps even... reasonable.

The state has made it legal to text while behind the wheel, unless it's done in a "careless or imprudent manner." While the new law does give a reprieve to those who use their phones in a safe manner (e.g., while at red light, or stopped in traffic), it also significantly increases the penalties for those who run afoul of the "carelessness" provision. As we've written before, there are many potential distractions inside a vehicle, and eliminating them all would be impractical, if not impossible. So this new law puts the focus on the dangerous behavior instead of the potential distraction itself, holding the driver responsible for unsafe actions.

Before now, any text messaging or manual data entry by a motorist was prohibited. “The simple fact is that if you are texting while driving but not being careless, it’s no longer illegal,” said Tim Lane at the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.

While the change does appear to have support among law enforcement, it is still understandably controversial.

“The focus of the law isn’t for people who are stopped at stop lights or pulled over on the road texting,” said Mike Phibbs, the legislative chair for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. “I think it’s actually helped clarify the issue and targets what’s really causing the problem.”

But officials acknowledge that it is now harder to issue citations to drivers for texting while driving — and that the law opens the door to more legal challenges in court.

There is a reasonable concern that having what amounts to a conditional ban will embolden people to push the limits of what is acceptable behavior, or just make it more likely that people won't worry as much about texting while driving, since it is now "legal." However, the hope is that the severity of the penalties for the illegal behavior -- even for first time offenders -- will make drivers more cautious in how they use their phones. Either way, it's good to see a focus on actual bad behavior, rather than a broad ban on activity that might be bad, depending on circumstances.

Filed Under: colorado, distracted driving, texting, texting while driving


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:32am

    So this new law puts the focus on the dangerous behavior instead of the potential distraction itself, holding the driver responsible for unsafe actions.

    Not using a seatbelt isn't dangerous behavior, only getting in accidents is. Clearly, the former should be legal then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      That is a stretch, not even close to being comparable.

      Clearly, there are circumstances that the driver is not in complete control of. For example, drivers can not control what other drivers are doing and therefore there is a possibility that they will be hit by that other driver - so wearing their seat belt is advisable even when at a stop light. Distracted driving is not compatible to wearing a seat belt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re:

        huh? what you said makes no sense. The OP did not imply what you are saying.

        He is just stating that if the "unsafe" action of texting is legal then so should the option of not wearing a seat belt.

        Seat-belt laws are nothing more than cash grab material. Sure it is stupid for people to not wear one, but that is their choice. If people want to risk their lives, that is their choice, government really has no right to proxy parent you.

        Just look at it this way... lets REMOVE all the warning labels and let the problem take care of itself!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 10:23am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Seat belt laws are NOT a cash grab... well, the police can turn ANYTHING into a cash grab, but seat belts have tons of actual reasons to be mandatory. Helping prevent (serious) injuries in an accident is only the most visible reason.

          Seat belts help keep the driver where he needs to be - behind the wheel. I saw an accident when I was a kid where a driver just turning the corner slid across the front bench seat (yes, some vehicles have bench seats in the front, especially older vehicles) because he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

          Seat belts also help make sure passengers aren't moving around in the vehicle, which can also cause problems for the driver. Hell, it keeps the DRIVER from moving around when he shouldn't be. I've seen idiots who take their seat belt off while driving so they can reach something in the back seat... while on the freeway doing 70.

          Seat belts help keep people from trying to carry too many passengers - don't put 17 people in a vehicle meant for five. If you need to move enough people to require a bus, get a damn bus!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:43pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It makes no sense to you because you do not want it to.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JMT (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 6:24pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Seat-belt laws are nothing more than cash grab material. Sure it is stupid for people to not wear one, but that is their choice. If people want to risk their lives, that is their choice, government really has no right to proxy parent you."

          Just curious, who do you think pays for the millions of dollars worth of medical care required to treat the serious injuries of all those who survive unbelted crashes?

          And have you considered the net loss to society caused by serious injuries and deaths? If the government acting as a proxy parent upsets your conservative sensibilities so much, why don't you instead look at it as the government protecting it's financial investment and not wanting to lose your tax dollars.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:37am

    "But officials acknowledge that it is now harder to issue citations to drivers for texting while driving"

    And here is the real reason for why some folk are upset.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R W Jones, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:41am

    Texting While Driving

    Horrible approach. It ignores the likelihood that people will underestimate the true risk of texting while driving and it ignores the fact that distracted driving has a high likelihood of inflicting injuries that can't be remedied by financial penalties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:49am

      Re: Texting While Driving

      Let's not confuse the facts here. One is still issued a ticket for distracted driving, aka texting while driving.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 8:55am

    What's clearly needed here is a car with a "head's up" display like fighter jets have long had, so people can text to their heart's content without ever taking their eyes off the road.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:28am

      Re:

      With an external keypad/keyboard positioned properly, you could always mount a smartphone with the screen flipped and aimed at the windshield like a HUD app. Finding a usable & intuitive keyboard seems to be the difficult bit...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      I would like a HUD, but it does need a lot of development and testing. There is an obvious limit to the amount of disruptive information that can go onto an interface as well.

      Plus try not to over sell the HUD idea. People up in a plane where instant obstacles like flying rocks, people cutting in and aircraft flying around 3-10 feet from each other is just not a reality. Instrumentation is an obvious improvement for air craft, but not necessarily for a vehicle designed around moving stupid people from point A to point B is the least complex way possible for the user.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      I don't care about texting, I just want a fighter jet HUD in my car.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Michael Long (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 10:34am

      Re:

      What's clearly needed here are self-driving cars so the idiots can text to their hearts content without threatening to kill themselves, their passengers, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rusty Eulberg, 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:26am

    texting while driving

    I don't think we need specific news laws for cell phone use

    I just wish when yet another driver nearly kills me on my motorcycle, because of whatever stupid reason they weren't paying attention, That the police would charge them appropriately -- some felony like reckless endangerment or attempted manslaughter

    30,000 people a year in the US-- that's ten 9/11s every year on our highways

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Don Morse, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:19pm

      Re: texting while driving

      Yep, now that they've inhaled enough MJ smoke, it's time to let the irresponsibles off all the hooks of responsibility. Agreed, on my M/C riding here in Southern California, it's appalling to see the stuff going on that cage cretins perform while attempting to control their vehicle. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NON-DISTRACTED TEXTING WHILE DRIVING. This is not enforcing a "Nanny State", it's simply protecting ME as I'm on the road not wanting to get run over by the idiots who think they can text and drive.
      Sorry, allowing texting which WILL result in distracted driving, WILL eventually cause an accident where some poor innocent will perish at the hands of these morons. A slap on the wrist to the offending distracted driver will NOT compensate the family of the murdered motorist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McFortner (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 9:47am

    Colorado: New home of the Demolition Derby Hall of Fame!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 10:53am

    How about laws that cover all distracted driving?

    How about laws that cover all distracted driving? Otherwise, it goes something like this:

    Officer: I pulled you over for playing with the radio.
    Person: No, sir, I was texting, which is legal.

    New law: texting while driving is illegal.

    Officer: I pulled you over for texting while driving.
    Person: No, sir, I was checking Facebook, which is legal.

    New law: using Facebook while driving is illegal.

    Officer: I pulled you over for using Facebook.
    Person: No, sir, I was sending out a tweet, which is legal.

    New law: using Twitter while driving is illegal.

    Officer: I pulled you over for using Twitter.
    Person: No, sir, I was sending an e-mail.

    And on and on and on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 11:17am

      Re: How about laws that cover all distracted driving?

      Because if a law is too broad, the police will just pull you over for being black on a Friday night which is distracting a lot of other folks.

      yes, it can be simplified, but never discount how fast people with authority will use it to fuck with you. Police have ego's, bad days, emotions, and idea about how society should operate as well. And they don not always agree with yours or the current culture they are policing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:49pm

      Re: How about laws that cover all distracted driving?

      as long as it isn’t done in “a careless or imprudent manner.”

      I think everyone is missing the whole point of Colorado's law.

      In a nutshell, if you're going to do something inherently dangerous, it's okay as long as you don't do this dangerous thing in a dangerous, careless, or imprudent way.

      If you're going to swing a gun around wildly and pull the trigger, then please do it carefully. You should first have some belief that it is probably unloaded.

      As long as you're using safety measures like that, everyone else around you will be okay with whatever the outcome.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:49pm

      Re: How about laws that cover all distracted driving?

      Am I allowed to eat my McBooger sandwich while driving to my second McJob ?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 11:12am

    Glad it's not my state.

    I understand the appeal of this, codifying the subjective enforcement that already happens, but I think there are some heavy downsides. It's transferring onus from an objective action, to a subjective state. I don't think anyone pulls out their phone and says, I'm going to drive while distracted now. When you're distracted, you don't notice you're not paying attention. This encourages drivers, instead of a flat ban on holding a phone, to approach that nebulous divide between attentive and distracted. Dance back and forth with injury and death, and see if you come out a winner today. Smart. I can't see reduced enforcement and higher penalty making a difference, we should all watch to see what happens to the accident rates in CO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    t3rminus (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 11:53am

    Bad bad bad.

    Give people an inch, they take a mile.
    In 2104 some Canadian highways had speed limits raised from 100km/h (60mph) to 120km/h (75mph).

    Part of the reasoning is that they were not very busy stretches of Highway, and people were going 120km/h anyway.

    Fast forward to 2016 with an 11% increase in crashes, they're now lowering the speeds again.

    Turns out people go over the speed limit, regardless of what the speed limit is. If it's 100km/h, they do 120km/h. If it's 120km/h, they do 140 or more.

    Make it illegal to text, and people will push it a bit, and do it where they think is safe (and probably get away with it).

    Make it legal to text where safe, and people will push it a bit, and do it where it might not be entirely safe (and probably crash).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 11:58am

    That $300 fine will be no significant deterrent. I was on the phone with a friend of mine a couple years ago, me at home and he in his car (he answered when I called him, he shouldn't have). He was pulled over by a cop and I heard the first half of their conversation. The cop issued him a ticket for $280 for use of a cell phone while driving. Though my friend griped at me about it as though it was my fault he answered his phone, he answered again while driving less than a week later.

    Stupid is as stupid does and no amount of laws will change that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:43pm

    Insane, just insane, for reasons already stated here. People will die because of this, and it most likely won't be the texters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 1:48pm

    This sounds like someone has been enjoying perhaps the statewide contact high delivered by their last major legislation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 3:35pm

    If someone is found guilty of reckless driving due to texting or other misuse of tech gizmos, they should be banned from owning or using both a car and the gizmo in question for at least a year if not longer. Distracted driving is on par with randomly firing a gun while blindfolded. It is easier to lose the right to own a gun(despite the 2nd amendment baring infringement) then to lose the right to drive a car or own a cell phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:52pm

    wth ... some script kiddie in mommies basement again???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 5:11pm

    Drinking and Driving?

    “The simple fact is that if you are texting while driving but not being careless, it’s no longer illegal,” said Tim Lane at the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.

    Multiple studies have shown that things like texting while driving can be more impairing than drinking and driving. So, why not do the same for drinking and driving, so long as you're not being careless? We could even have a system where you can have your alcohol level measured before taking a driving test and, if you pass the test, then you are allowed to drive at that level in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2017 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Drinking and Driving?

      Numerous studies have shown that Drunks can train themselves to be able to perform the sobriety test and they'll pass perfectly... until the LEO decides to throw in a new twist, NOW they're no longer performing an automated action and fail miserably.

      People can drink and drive very well... the vast majority of people that drink and drive get home safely and without incident. The problem is the same problem that self-driving cars have but the representatives of the companies (and the idiots who read TechDirt) don't understand... the instant there is something new or unexpected thrown into the system, the response of the system is unpredictable and the chance of collision drastically increases.

      Yes, I did say it. Self-Driving cars are functioning on the level of a drunk or a person who is texting and driving. It's not about having your eyes on the road, it's about having your full mind on the road, and neural networks are only capable of the auto-pilot portion of our minds, where we perform the maneuvers but do not process why we're performing them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 22 Jun 2017 @ 12:04am

    Utter lunacy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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