Dear Action Line: The investigating officer at the scene of a traffic accident is NOT legally allowed to inspect the cellphone of the perp for recent activity. This is opposed to the officer being allowed to check for the presence of drugs or alcohol. Recently, there have been a number of bad and sometimes fatal accidents in this area, and I came within a whisker of being T-boned – all obviously from “distracted” drivers. Using a cellphone while driving should be “checkable” and be a criminal offense. – Two Thumbs On the Wheel
Dear Two Thumbs: If we all just sit back and relax and wait 20 to 30 years, all vehicles will be self-driving and you can all just text without a care while moving to your next destination. Until then, we’ll be facing a minefield out there.
The premise of Two Thumbs’ question is sort of true, but not completely. Action Line made some inquiries and did some research, and here’s what’s up.
The state does have a law against distracted driving and cellphone use, and officers do have some ability to check, just as they would in driving under the influence cases.
States have differing laws. Colorado’s is pretty plain. Under Colorado law, specifically Section 42-4-239(3) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, “A person shall not use a wireless telephone for the purpose of engaging in text messaging or other similar forms of manual data entry or transmission while operating a motor vehicle.”
Furthermore, the law, last amended in 2017, says a driver should not be cited for this violation unless an officer witnesses the texting and sees that this action caused the vehicle to swerve.
Obviously, when investigating a crash, an officer hasn’t seen the violation. In this case, said Jacob Dunlop, commander with the Durango Police Department, “If an officer suspected distracted driving was a contributing cause to the crash, then the officer could seize the phone and seek a search warrant for evidence relating to the phone’s use at the time of the crash. This would probably only be done in situations involving significant injury or death.”
Really, this isn’t a whole lot different from driving under the influence. Even when an officer suspects drugs or alcohol were involved, the officer can’t force the suspect to immediately submit to a test, Dunlop noted.
Bottom line: Texting or using a cellphone for any reason while driving is not a good idea, and hopefully everyone realizes that.
(Note to self: Are you reading what you’re writing, Mr. Action Line?)
Dunlop said that even if a driver is stopped in traffic while texting – at a traffic light for example – that too is a violation. If drivers pull off the road and stop, then they can text or check their driving directions or sports bet status.
Anecdotally, Dunlop said, the still-emerging technology is becoming more of a driving hazard, especially as people gain comfort in using it and as we grow accustomed to instant information.
“I think people are a little nonchalant about using it while driving,” Dunlop said. “I do believe it’s the cause of a lot of crashes.”
You may be hearing more about this. The Durango Police Department recently received a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for education and enforcement.
“Our department hopes to initiate an in-person and social media education campaign followed up by increased efforts to enforce the law,” Dunlop said.
Dear Action Line: Some time back a collection event for hazardous waste was held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Do you know if this will be repeated? It was a great service to be able to get toxic and flammable waste off private property. If no event is planned, do you know who accepts used motor oil? – Rosalie Phillips
Dear Rosalie: The city of Durango and La Plata County have been putting on the hazardous waste collection event with help from the joint sales tax. Action Line contacted the city, which has been cooking up a surprising plan.
“Based on the community feedback regarding the Fourth of July fireworks display, the city may consider collecting used motor oil for some old-school pyrotechnics next year,” said Marty Pool, the city’s sustainability manager.
Pretty cool, eh? A few drops of antifreeze for color and paint thinner for special effects – this oughta be fun.
Alas, Pool was joshing.
“Obviously kidding there,” Pool continued, “since burning used fuels or flammables of any kind is very dangerous, extremely bad for the environment, and illegal.”
Sigh. Nobody really knows how to have fun anymore. Must be the darn lawyers.
More disappointing news is that you’re going to have to wait a year for the hazardous waste collection event. City Council and Board of County Commissioners have decided on an every-other-year plan to save costs. An event was held in September 2022, so the next one will be in fall 2024, Pool said.
If you don’t want to wait until then, Pool suggested that the best option is to check with a local auto parts, service or repair shop to see if they can take your used motor oil and other motor fluids.
Email questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. If you haven’t been following the news, the city’s Fourth of July drone show met with an unenthusiastic response. So, this was self-deprecating humor.