Colorado hikes texting fines, limits enforcement

Colorado has graduated from being “one of the lowest-fining states” for texting & driving.

Lois Court of ColoradoGov. John Hickenlooper signed into law the plan from state Sen. Lois Court, left, that makes a significant increase in texting & driving penalties. First-time offenders now face penalties of $300 and 4 points vs. the driver’s license.

There’s a catch, however. In adopting the tougher penalties, Colorado lawmakers decided to require police to witness some form of careless driving as a result of the text messaging. That amendment, from Sen. Owen Hill, watered down Court’s original plan to what is essentially secondary enforcement.

Police must see “careless and imprudent” driving in order to issue a ticket for texting. So a driver texting at a red light most likely would not be cited. “I think that’s a challenge when we look at someone sitting in traffic or stopped at a stop light,” Hill said before his amendment was adopted in committee. “What I agree completely with is (addressing) texting (that’s done in) a dangerous way.”

State law officers write about 300 tickets a year for texting & driving.

Colorado’s previous fine for adult texting & driving was $50 with a point. House sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton noted that Colorado was “one of the lowest-fining states.”

Texting violations are class 2 misdemeanors. If a death or injury occurs, however, prosecution is for a class 1 misdemeanor.

Court credited lobbying and testimony by a motorcycle group who lost two members in a crash blamed on a texting driver. “This bill was dead on arrival at the Senate State Affairs Committee until these people came up,” Court said at the bill signing.

Melton said “as smart phones get smarter they’re able to do more — that’s why we have to keep our statutes ahead of the game.”

Senate Bill 27 was approved by the full Senate in a 34-1 vote of March 3. The House came aboard in a 54-8 vote of April 24. Hickenlooper signed the resulting act June 1 and it went into effect right away.

Colorado outlawed texting and the use of cell phones by teen drivers in 2009. It does not regulate adults’ other uses of cell phones, handheld or hands-free. Teens who violate the electronic distracted driving law are penalized at a lower rate.

> Read more about Colorado’s distracted driving laws.

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