New Bill Outlaws Cell Phone Use While Driving

New Bill Outlaws Cell Phone Use While Driving

Colorado joins 27 other states with hand-held phone bans. The Colorado State Legislature recently passed a cell phone driving law that will make it illegal for drivers to hold cell phones in their hands while driving. Previously, Colorado law prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones while driving.

Under the new law, set to take effect on January 1, 2025, drivers will be able to legally make calls only if they use a hands-free accessory. The new measure received significant support from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Colorado State Patrol. 

The bill’s passage culminates a years-long battle by lawmakers to crack down on distracted driving. The Legislature rejected a similar bill in 2018. State Senator Christopher Hansen, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, noted

“There’s a massive safety benefit when drivers are keeping their hands on the steering wheel.” Mr. Hansen also pointed out the necessity of the United States catching up on distracted driving prevention, stating, “The rest of the industrialized world made this change long ago.” 

A man grins while on his phone and driving

Governor Polis praised the new law, calling it a “big step forward” that will improve road safety throughout the state. However, the law did not pass without opposition. During negotiations, lawmakers faced pressure from defense attorneys who wanted to ensure the law was not too broad. The attorneys contended if the law allowed police too much discretion, they would be able to pull over “practically anybody.” During a legislative committee hearing, James Karbach, legislative policy director for the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, stated: 

“We were worried that the police could use this law to pull over just about anybody, anytime – and not just to enforce this law.”

The Colorado Freedom Fund also backed the Public Defender’s Office. The Fund, which advocates for criminal justice reform, was worried the law would lead to profiling. Making the offense secondary alleviated that concern. 

Distracted Driving in Colorado 

The law comes during a critical time. Cell phone use among drivers has risen considerably. A 2023 CDOT survey revealed an incredible 76% of Colorado drivers admitted using their phones while driving. Cell phone use is not the only distracted driving hazard. The same survey showed drivers engage in other distracting activities, such as eating and adjusting the radio.

A woman talks on the phone while driving

Distracted driving in Colorado is the third leading cause of crashes. CDOT reported 718 traffic fatalities involved distracted driving between 2012 and 2022. A nationwide survey concluded distracted driving caused over 420,000 collisions and 1,000 fatalities since 2020. During that time, Colorado saw 754 traffic-related deaths, the most since 1981. Of those, 36% were pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. These individuals face a significant risk of severe injury or death when struck by drivers. These fatalities are the most in Colorado since 1975. The chart below shows the sharp increase in roadway fatalities since 2020: 

Colorado Driving Deaths Reduction Trend

What are the Penalties for Violating the Cell Phone Driving Law?

  • A driver caught talking on or otherwise using their cellphone while driving will be subject to a $75.00 fine and two points against their license if it is their first time being cited for the offense within the past two years. The fine can be waived if a driver produces a hands-free accessory or proof of purchase of a hands-free accessory. 
  • If a driver is cited a second time within a two-year period, they will be subject to a $250.00 fine and four points against their license. As a point of reference, Colorado law attaches four points to a driver’s license when they are charged with speeding 10 to 19 miles per hour over the legal limit. Clearly, Colorado lawmakers are taking the issue of distracted driving seriously. 
  • If a driver is caught talking on or otherwise using their cellphone and such actions were the “proximate cause” of a car accident in Colorado that results in injuries or death, the driver can be charged with a Class 1 traffic misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000.00 in fines. 
A police car is parked behind a pulled over car

Are There Exceptions to the Law?

Drivers can still make calls while driving if they have a hands-free device. There are also notable exceptions. For instance, drivers can still hold and use their phones if their vehicle is parked. In addition, drivers are permitted to hold their phones if they are reporting an emergency. First responders and utility contractors responding to emergencies are also exempted.

Importantly, the law is a secondary offense. This means drivers must first be pulled over for suspicion of a separate offense, such as speeding. Police cannot pull over a driver for using a cell phone if that is the only observable violation.  

Future Efforts to Increase Road Safety in Colorado

There is no doubt Colorado roads have become more dangerous. The alarming data has prompted CDOT and its partners to develop strategies to reduce roadway fatalities. Currently, CDOT is implementing the Advancing Transportation Safety Program (ATSP). The ATSP involves collaborative efforts among state agencies, local law enforcement, community groups, and municipalities to address safety issues. ATSP is a product of the Strategic Transportation Safety Plan, a mission launched in 2020 by state agencies aimed at enhancing transportation safety. 

A close-up of a police officer writing a ticket

The ATSP focuses on four key areas:

  • Safe Drivers: The ATSP aims to identify and address common dangerous driving behaviors that lead to crashes.
  • Safe People: Aimed at protecting vulnerable roadway users, like motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
  • Safe Roads: Meant to identify areas for road design improvements, such as roundabouts, installing rails and enhanced roadway striping. 
  • Post-Crash Care: Stresses the importance of developing a fast and effective emergency response in the event of a crash. 

Driving in Colorado is uniquely hazardous. Whether it is unpredictable weather or winding roads up steep mountains, drivers in the Centennial State must pay extra attention. Combining these factors with the increasing number of crashes over the years, drivers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians are at risk of serious injuries. The passage of the cell phone ban illuminates the distracted driving crisis. Many crashes can be avoided if drivers simply paid attention to the road in front of them. Unfortunately, with the population immersed in their cell phones and social media, attentive driving has become an afterthought. 

Contact a Colorado Personal Injury Law Firm

If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, the Colorado personal injury law firm of Bowman Law is here to answer your questions and discuss your case. Contact us, call, or email us for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys have represented hundreds of drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists injured because of others’ negligence.

Our law firm is located in Denver and serves individuals throughout the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins, Westminster, Lakewood, and Aurora.