Colorado State Representative Jovan Emerson Melton

Colorado State Representative Jovan Emerson Melton

Colorado State Representative Jovan Emerson Melton (D-Aurora) has proposed a bill to limit the use of cell phones while driving and prohibit drivers from using smartphone apps, writes Erin Stephenson in a editorial. The state already bans texting while driving, writes Ivan Moreno for the Associated Press, in an article appearing in the Kansas City Star, but Melton points out that state law does not prohibit “fiddling” on smartphones while driving. Moreno quotes Melton as saying, “So technically you could be sitting in traffic playing Angry Birds — and that’s totally legal.”

Melton’s bill, which was scheduled for a committee hearing this week, would prohibit drivers from using apps while driving and would only allow calls via a hands-free device or in an emergency, Moreno writes. He adds that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the use of hand-held phones while driving is already banned in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Colorado State University did a study last year that found 15.6% of drivers were distracted while behind the wheel, Moreno notes. The study, which involved observations of more than 24,000 drivers in 12 Colorado counties, found that the top distracted-driving behavior was talking on cell phones, followed by drinking/eating and texting, Moreno writes.

Melton’s bill would set the fine for using a hand-held cell phone while driving at $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second one, Moreno writes. The bill would consider such behavior a secondary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer could issue a citation only if there was a primary reason for stopping the driver.

Stephenson interviews Shelley Forney, the mother of a young Fort Collins girl who was killed by a distracted driver while riding her bike on Nov. 25, 2008. Forney says the need for a bill to prevent cell phone use while driving is very real. In the months after 9-year-old Erica Forney’s death, the Colorado Legislature considered taking action to restrict drivers to hands-free devices, “but they chose instead to pass a watered-down version,” Stephenson writes. Forney would like to see “an outright ban,” but Melton is pursuing smaller steps that he thinks can be accomplished, Stephenson writes. “I think the legislation before was ahead of its time,” Melton said, “and I think we’ve now caught up to having this conversation and actually passing something that’s going to make our streets a little more safer.”

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