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Hold the phone: Bill to limit cell use fails

DENVER – New restrictions on cellphone use while driving stalled in the Colorado House as lawmakers wrestled with emotional testimony and the logistics of enforcing the proposal.

A bill that would’ve required drivers to use a hands-free device to use their cellphones failed to gain enough votes to clear its first committee Wednesday. But lawmakers did not rule out considering the proposal later.

The votes came after hours of testimony, including that of Shelley Forney, whose 9-year-old daughter was killed in 2008 by a distracted driver. Forney cried and showed lawmakers a picture of her daughter with the words, “No call or text is worth a life.”

Some lawmakers wanted the bill to have stiffer penalties for offenders. Others expressed concern that the bill would be difficult to enforce as written.

The traffic infraction would have been punishable by a $50 fine for the first offense and a $100 fine for the second. The bill would have made exemptions for emergency calls.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving. Colorado already prohibits texting while driving, along with 40 other states.

Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton, the sponsor of the bill, said he’s heard concerns from his Aurora constituents about drivers distracted by their cellphones.

A 2013 study from Colorado State University, conducted from April 28 through May 4, found that 15.6 percent of drivers were distracted. Researchers observed more than 24,000 drivers during the study, which covered 12 counties in Colorado. Talking on cellphones was the top reason for distraction, and texting was number three. Drinking and eating ranked second.

During the previous year, there have been 515 citations in Colorado for texting while driving, according to legislative analysts working on Melton’s bill. The law took effect in December 2009.

Similar to the texting ban, using a handheld cellphone while driving would have been considered a secondary offense, meaning that police officers would have been able to issue a citation for using a cellphone only if a driver was stopped for something else first.

On the Net

House Bill 1225: http://goo.gl/irFiD5

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