Colorado: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: January 28, 2018
Distracted driving news: State Sen. Lois Court’s 2018 attempt at a handheld mobile device ban that would affect all Colorado drivers was shot down Jan. 24 in committee. The bill also would have removed the controversial 2017 amendment to Court’s texting & driving bill/law that required police to witness “careless and imprudent” driving before issuing a distracted driving ticket. Republican opponents of the latest measure cited personal liberties and the other possible distractions not covered.

Colorado state flag for cell phone story Court’s 2017 plan for a significant increase in texting & driving penalties was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Under Court’s SB 27 of 2017 (as amended), an offense brings a $300 fine and 4 points vs. the offender’s license. The bill was amended to water down enforcement, however. Court wasn’t a big fan of the final result, calling the new law “incomplete and difficult to enforce.”

Colorado first outlawed texting and the use of cell phones by teen drivers in 2009.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging prohibited if driving in “careless or imprudent manner.”
  • Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using cell phones as well as all text messaging.
  • Colorado law prohibits drivers with any type of instruction permit from using a “mobile communication device,” including cell phones and text messaging units. This includes instruction permit holders of all ages.

Penalties: $300 fine and 4 points vs. license. For drivers under 18, $50 then $100.

Distracted driving legislation (2018):
Senate Bill 49: Would bar use of handheld wireless devices by adult drivers. Increases fine for distracted drivers under age 18 to $300. Changes “mobile telephone” term used in law to “mobile electronic device.” Repeals sentence enhancement for causing bodily harm or death while distracted by device. Removes need for police to witness “careless and imprudent” driving. “Postponed indefinitely” by Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs in a 3-2 vote of Jan. 24. (Court)

Distracted driving notes (2018):
Republican members of the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs panel all voted against Sen. Lois Court’s attempt to add teeth into the Colorado distracted driving law. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg said the bill addressed “only a small portion of distracted driving.” Sen. Owen Hill said the bill went “too far in replacing personal liberty with fines, fees, taxes and regulations.”

2017 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 27: Seeks to increase the penalty for texting & driving to a $500 $300 fine and 5 4 points (as amended). Then a $750 fine and 6 points. Committee amendment of Feb. 8 adds wording that texting offense must result in driving in a “careless and imprudent manner” to warrant traffic stop. Amended and approved by the State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee in 4-1 vote of Feb. 8. Approved unanimously by the Finance Committee on Feb. 16. Approved by Appropriations in a 6-1 vote of Feb. 28. Approved by the full Senate in a 34-1 vote of March 3. Approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a 10-1 vote of March 21. Approved by the full House in a 54-8 vote of April 24. Signed into law by the governor June 1. (Court)

2017 distracted driving notes:
State Sen. Lois Court credits the success of her texting-fine bill to 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 June 1. The senator called electronic distracted driving “an epidemic” while Melton called for the state to keep its statutes up to date with smartphone technology.

Fatal crashes linked to distracted driving numbered 67 in Colorado during 2016, preliminary DOT numbers show. That compares with 69 in 2015 and 58 in 2014.

State Sen. Owen Hill was behind the committee push to water down Colorado’s texting & driving law via amendment to SB 27 (above). “Texting, even if it’s not dangerous to whatever the situation (is) considered a crime,” Hill told the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee. “I think that’s a challenge when we look at someone sitting in traffic or stopped at a stop light. … What I agree completely with is (addressing) texting (that’s done in) a dangerous way.” The panel OK’d the bill with the amendment.

Friends of Brian and Jacque Lehner testified before the State Affairs Committee regarding SB 27. The couple was killed in a wreck linked to drunken texting. “(Cell phone use) is killing people we know, that we love. It’s time for change,” one friend told lawmakers.

SB 27 sponsor Sen. Louis Court says it “would make people think twice about picking the phone up.” The bill is about “saving lives,” he said.

2016 distracted driving notes:
Greeley’s City Council approved a general distracted driving ordinance, apparently the first in the state. The unusual 2016 ordinance does not specify distracted driving behaviors, leaving that to the discretion of police. “Judgment and common sense” would be used to determine if a driver was distracted, the chief of police vowed. Fines $60 to $100. Colorado has a statewide texting law, but does not restrict use of cell phones by adults.

Greeley’s new inattentive driving law was inspired by several local deaths, including that of one woman who was reaching for a hamburger. The City Council’s April 19 vote was 6-1, with the lone dissenter raising racial profiling concerns. The city also OK’d a texting & driving law that routes offenders (and revenues) to municipal court.

2015 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 1207: Would allow use of audio headset covering one ear and attached to a handheld cell phone. Bluetooth OK. Applies to current law barring use of earphones while driving. Approved unanimously by the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 12. Approved by the full House on Feb. 20 and then the Senate on March 10. Signed into law by the governor March 26. (Melton)

2015 distracted driving notes:
State Rep. Jovan Melton filed successful legislation that allows use of handheld cell phones with one earphone. Colorado’s outdated law had barred the use of earphones by drivers. Melton says he filed the headset bill after a constituent told him about getting a ticket for using a Bluetooth headset. The General Assembly and governor agreed, making his legislation law in 2015.

Prospects for legislation that allows use of handheld cell phones with one earphone “are pretty good,” state Rep. Jovan Melton told Hands Free Info. The legislation “would make it legal to use a Bluetooth or one ear bud while talking on the phone.” He was right: The legislation cleared the full House on Feb. 20 and then the Senate. The governor signed the bill into law March 26.

Melton says he filed the headset bill after a constituent told him about getting a ticket for using a Bluetooth headset. “I don’t think we should be punishing people who are trying to drive safely and having both hands on the wheel when the law just hasn’t caught up with technology,” Melton told 7NEWS in Denver. Melton’s plan to bar Colorado drivers from using cell phones without hands-free accessories was rejected by the House Transportation Committee in March 2014. It was the only distracted driving bill up for consideration during the 2014 legislative session.

2014 distracted driving legislation:
HB 1225 (14-1225): Would prohibit use of cell phones without hands-free attachments. Bars use of mobile-device applications. Secondary enforcement unless violation occurs in school zone or work zone. Fine: $50 (first offense), then $100. Defeated in the House Committee on Transportation on March 12. (Melton)

Distracted driving notes (2014):
State Rep. Jovan Melton’s cell phone legislation singled out Web applications as well, citing the temptations of playing “Angry Birds” in traffic. House Bill 1225 called for secondary enforcement unless the driver is in a school zone or roadway construction area. Melton said he proposed the lightly regarded secondary enforcement because primary enforcement might be “too burdensome for our law enforcement.”

State Rep. Dominick Moreno, one of two Democrats to vote against the cell phone bill, said he was concerned the measure didn’t go far enough due to its secondary enforcement provision.

Rep. Melton, D-Aurora, says he added use of mobile applications to his distracted driving bill because, “Technically, I can be playing Angry Birds on my phone in 5 o’clock traffic.”

2013 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 16 (13-016): Would establish rules for operation of self-driving vehicles in Colorado. States that operator of vehicle may use a cell phone and text message while using the guidance system. Postponed indefinitely by Transportation Committee on Feb. 5. (Brophy)

2013 distracted driving notes:
The grieving parents of a Boulder college student released an image of his smartphone with a unfinished text message that apparently led to his death. “I can’t bear the thought of anyone else having to go through something like this,” said the mother of Alexander Heit. He died April 3 while driving & texting in Greeley, police said. Heit drifted into oncoming traffic, flipped his vehicle while trying to avoid a crash and died shortly after. View image of the fatal text message.

2012 legislation notes:
Only one piece of distracted driving legislation was before lawmakers in 2012: The return of a bill that revised the existing state prohibition against video screens visible to drivers. Senate Bill 12 was approved by the General Assembly, and then signed into law by the governor.

The author of Colorado’s text messaging law, Rep. Claire Levy, said late in the 2012 session that she would not introduce a bill due to ongoing resistance from House Speaker Frank McNulty.

In 2009, Levy’s hands-free bill was approved by the House after wrenching testimony from a mother who lost her 9-year-old to a cell phone-related accident. It was watered down in the Senate to include only bans on text messaging and cell phoning by teen drivers. The weakened legislation was signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on June 1, 2009, and went into effect Dec. 1, 2009.

The Denver Police Department says it wrote 165 texting and driving citations so far in 2012, as of mid-November. A local TV report on the distracted driving law said enforcement was “spotty, sometimes non-existent” across Front Range cities such as Aurora.

2012 distracted driving legislation:
SB 92 (12-092): Would eliminate the current ban on video devices that are not located behind the driver’s seat. Would outlaw operating a vehicle while a video screen is visible to the driver. Inserts language approving use of computers, data terminals and safety equipment provided they do not display “visual entertainment” — Internet, email, social media — to the driver. Similar to SB 14 of 2011 but amended by both Houses. OK’d by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 7-0 vote taken Feb. 14. Approved by the Senate on Feb. 23. Approved by the House Transportation Committee in a 12-1 vote of March 15 and then by the full House on March 27. Senate then OK’d House changes. Latest legislative action: Signed by the governor April 13. (Jahn)

2011 legislation:
SB 14: Would eliminate the current ban on video devices that are not located behind the driver’s seat. Seeks to allow use of screens that are not visible to the driver. Specifies that screens must not be allowed to display “visual entertainment” to the driver. Postponed indefinitely by the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 25, 2011. (Jahn)

2010 legislation:
No bills related to drivers’ use of handheld cell phones or text messaging were introduced.

2010 legislation notes:
The Colorado State Patrol said it has issued 90 texting while driving citations since it went into effect in December 2009 (as of late April).

U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, has proposed “Erica’s Law,” which would penalize states that do not outlaw use of cell phones in school zones. The federal distracted driving legislation is named after 9-year-old Erica Forney, who was killed by an SUV driver using a cell phone. The girl was biking home after school. Erica lived in Markey’s district of Fort Collins.

Boulder’s County sheriff calls the Colorado text-messaging ban “a feel good law” that he won’t be enforcing to the letter. As in not pulling over drivers for simply using a phone or pushing buttons. Sheriff Joe Pelle said his department’s emphasis would be on “bad driving.” The bill that became law was authored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder.

2009 legislation:
HB 1094: Would require hands-free accessories for drivers using cell phones. Would prohibit drivers under 18 from using cell phones regardless of whether a hands-free device is attached. Would ban cell phone use by school drivers and motor vehicle carriers regulated by the public utilities commission. On May 4 2009, the Senate removed the cell phone restrictions for all drivers and returned it to the House. The amended texting legislation then was signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on June 1. The law took effect Dec. 1. (Levy)

2009 cell phone, texting legislation notes:
Fines for violating Colorado’s new texting law are $50 for the first offense and $100 thereafter.

The cell phone legislation HB 1094 came under heavy fire in the Senate, where it was reduced to bans on text messaging for all drivers and cell phone use by those under 18.

Gov. Bill Ritter signed the text-messaging ban in Fort Collins, home of schoolgirl Erica Forney, who was killed by a texting driver.

HB 1094 initially was approved by the Colorado House in a 39-25 vote on April 8, 2009. The bill was then approved by the Senate Finance Committee on April 23 and sent to appropriations.

The House Transportation Committee approved HB 1094 on Feb. 3, 2009, after hearing testimony from the mother of 9-year-old Erica Forney, killed by a driver using a cell phone. The vote was 8-2. “Cell-phone use and text messaging have gotten out of control and is literally killing people,” sponsor Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said.

“People are dying,” testified the mother, Shelley Forney. “People are severely injured, and there are no laws in place preventing people from talking or texting on their phones.” The painful testimony moved several committee members to tears.

Rep. Levy says of her HB 1094: “What part of you is focused on the task of driving when you’re reading, entering text and thinking about what you’re composing?” she asked. “I can’t imagine how that’s safe.” Violations of the law would be primary offenses with fines of up to $100.

Loveland, home of 9-year-old Erica Forney, the girl who was killed, is considering its own handheld cell phone ban in the wake of the state Legislature’s actions. The proposal is expected to go before the City Council by mid-August.

Sen. Bob Bacon and Rep. Randy Fischer, both D-Fort Collins, co-sponsor the Levy bill in 2009. Two bicyclists in their region were killed recently in cell phone-related accidents. Fischer is on the House Transportation Committee. “We really need to get out in front of this with some meaningful public policy,” Fischer said. “We should have addressed this 10 or 15 years ago.”

In 2007, the state House transportation committee killed a bill by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Lousiville, that would have doubled penalties and fines against “distracted drivers” — including those on cell phones. HB 1006 was seen as a way to do something about distracted drivers without criminalizing their behavior, according to news reports. (Weissman did not file a similar bill in 2008.)

The law banning instruction permit holders from using cell phones and PDAs was approved by the Assembly in April 2005.

Cell phone use by drivers is prohibited on the state’s major military bases, including Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy.

The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page has urged that, “Before banning cell phones on Colorado’s roadways, other driver distractions should also be considered.”

Colorado state troopers have been reporting cell phone involvement in accidents since Jan. 1, 2007, with study results expected in 2008.


  1. When will the law be pass for people talking and texting on the cell phone? There are so many people lives being cut short, because the stupidity of people not listening. Colorado really need to force this law by giving out fines on reckless drivers.

  2. Al Cinamon says:

    Well said, Scott. Your are one of the very few who understands what’s really going on. What is really needed is mandatory training classes in behavior modification.

  3. Studies show that accidents caused by distracted driving actually to up after anti texting laws are implemented. So if you REALLY want to save lives and aren’t just looking for feel good, kneejerk reaction satisfaction, start looking at the facts before enacting laws. If you support anti texting laws, you are supporting an INCREASE in unnecessary deaths. Laws aren’t always the answer people.

  4. Svein Erik Aam says:

    I have been a pilot since 1982 which led to my time as a professional pilot. I discovered that I could tune in AM radio stations and listen to them on the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) receiver that 90% of aircraft have on them. Even something as simple as listening to a Bronco game takes your Situational Awareness away from you. Basically you become a paid passenger. And that is from a trained professional. There are very few professional drivers. Having your mind on two separate tasks at the same time is an invitation for BIG trouble!

  5. parnika jain says:

    people should not drive while talking or texting on their phones. a lot of people can get killed. so many lives have been lost because of this. also people don’t take care of following this law that’s how they get killed. plus those those people are dumb.

  6. Pissed Off says:

    Stupid law?? Waste of money??? Are you people stupid? People are bloody DYING here all because you need to figure out which movie you’re going to, or who won the game or whatever it is.

    So pretty much some of you are saying “if you’re not going to ban everything that’s distracting, you can’t ban any of it.” What kid of drugs are you smoking?

    You shouldn’t do anything that will jeopardise yourself, your property, other people’s property, or most importantly OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES. If you want to kill yourself and wreck stuff, fine, go ahead. The world will be rid of yet another idiot and the insurance will fix the crap you broke, but if you kill someone else, then there is no redemption for that.

    If you want to take a call, or text, then pull to the side of the road, or in a parking lot. A cop can’t give you a ticket for being responsible.

    What if you lost your mom or dad? Or your sister or brother? Your son or doughter? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Then what? Is it still a dumb law? Will you be glad to hear when the driver WHO KILLED THEM tells you that he finished planning his weekend vacation BEFORE HE KILLED SOMEONE?

    Seriously. If you have to be somewhere and you can’t take a minute to stop for a call, then I don’t think you’ll have time to spend in PRISON for vehicular manslaughter.

    There should be incredibly strict laws about what you can and cannot do while driving. “But this is a free country!” Being and idiot at the cost of other people’s lives and property and money and time is not a freedom.

    Fine people up the wazoo! The city or state will be rolling in the money AND they will be making the streets safer. Charge $500 for any sort of reckless driving. Increase the price for each offence too! $500 for the first one. $1000 for the second offence, $1500 for the third.

    I want you to pay hordes of money so that maybe you won’t be so stupid, and I want you to learn your lesson so you don’t kill me, or anyone I know.

  7. I think any law restricting personal rights or freedoms are dumb and injustice they are just another way to collect revenue from the American population using the fear that in the off chance you might get into an accident because you’re on your phone the chance of getting into an accident from an animal jumping out or having a tire blow out I mean seriously we have to wear a seat belt in a car but you don’t have any restrictions like that for a motorcycle in a car you are surrounded by a steel cage in a car it makes no sense other than to charge for a seat belt ticket and increase the price of an automobile you are no safer depending on the accident it is all built on fear their is no reason for the tax or the law if you are an incompetant driver more than likely you are going to get into an accident either way or be struck by an incompetent driver. The laws in the us of late are all driven by fear or minority groups that affect the whole nation. Notice if they can not receive some sort of revenue from the law it will not pass

  8. so, one accident caused all textings on the wheels became bad?
    It’s like 1 accident out of 1 million textings (or even more), this is a really stupid law; how do police look inside our car if we’re texting anyway? If we got pull over, we can say we were browsing the websites, checking GPS, checking calendar, or checking e-mail (which are legal for above 18). This law is just a waste of money seiously.

  9. Lauren Boettcher says:

    i think it would be a very big mistake if Colorado were to pass a law requring hands free sets. if you think about it a hands free set is just as distracting as using a regular cell phone.also if you think about it they are taking this a little to far, smoking and driving can be just as distractive and thats not illegal. there has to be stop to saying whats distractive while drving and whats not. anything can be distractive while driving and its the drivers job to make sure hes not causing a hazard to himself or others. its not the governments job.

  10. I think it is a HUGE mistake not to make it mandatory for hands free cell phone usage for ALL drivers. When you see someone driving that seems to not be paying attention or breaking laws, look at the driver and you will see a cell phone glued to his/her ear more times than not. Lets get this corrected, and NOW.

  11. mastermind, shaving and putting on lipstick is far different from texting or talking on a cell. number one, EVERYONE has a cell phone from teens to seniors. not all women and teens shave, and not all men wear lipstick. number two, texting or talking on a phone requires the attention of the talking AND listening centers of your brain, which leaves none for driving. should one shave or tie their shoes while driving? no, but right now the biggest concern is cell phones and should rightfully be at the forefront of legislation, since the general public can’t be smart enough to put the damn phone down until they are stopped and pay attention to driving. sadly, some can’t exist without time away from the phone, knowing it is optional to answer a call or return a text when it’s safe and convenient. sort of like the answering phone days, it’s ok to miss a call. but try telling some inexperienced teenager to let that text go while they are driving.

  12. Matt evans says:

    I’ve lived in England most of my life, in fact I’m here right now… Cell phone bans while driving have been in efect here for quite some time now. When I first arrived in the states, I noticed mainly the general lack of attention to the road, what people need to realize is that driving is not somethig easy, or something that can be a
    “routine”. When I am driving (last time I was driving in the states was may) I notice loads of drivers on phones, quite often (too often) I notice A bad driver, then notice that they are on the phone. Yes other things do cause distractions, make-up, shaving, etc… But maybe laws showing people that driving is really about looking out for other drivers, actually driving, and not a “just get in your car and shut off your brain” thing is really what we need. People might start waking up to the fact that destractions in the car kill, and hopefully people will change the way they drive…

    Do any of these laws pertain to police officers? I notice police officers in my area on the phone, driving squad cars all the time… I think they should be placed under the same legislation, as they are destracted just as much as we are… Yes yes they take extra classes and courses for driving, but do they cover anywhere in any course being distracted to the point of not being able to control a motor vehicle? Which in recent events, cell phone use has proved to severly restrict your control of a motor vehicle.

    This is spoken from a teen driver, who isn’t allowed to use a phone at allwhile driving.
    Sorry if my spelling is bad, or if I have the wrong words, I’m writing from an iPod, as I don’t have a computer here.

  13. mastermind says:

    how about putting on make up, shaving or reading/looking at a map… how about reaching back to discipline your children, or reaching down to change music, or a cd for your cd player. Cell phones are not the only major distraction… this is the concern among the senate when presented with this bill for approval. We cannot single out one action of distraction, when so many others pose just as dangerous of a threat.

  14. I really hope some powerful politician is hit and at least shook-up by a driver texting/talking.

    ONLY THEN will we get action.

  15. I am disappointed the bill failed in the Senate. Think about it, what is the first thing you do when you are in your car and lost………turn off the radio. Why? Because your brain doesn’t process information as well with other audio interfering. Now we are saying, it is ok to have one hand on the wheel, one hand on your phone and to use your knee for the blinker and horn? The argument against this bill has been the comparison to eating a hamburger or changing the station on your radio. Which is absurd. That takes no brain power and you don’t do it for hour after hour. It may take a Senator personally being involved with a cell phone tragedy to change their minds

Post a comment, join the conversation