texting while driving

The Latest on Distracted Driving

The Latest on Distracted Driving

Current Proposed Legislation, Penalties, & Apps to Limit Distracted Driving

By Maureen & Megan

The Wednesday Memorial from January 22, 2019

The Wednesday Memorial from January 22, 2019

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reports that distracted drivers cause an average of 40 crashes each day in Colorado. In a survey conducted by CDOT in 2017, 89 percent of participants reported driving distracted in the seven days prior to completing the survey. Sixty-seven deaths in Colorado in 2016 involved distracted drivers. If that number does not seem high to you, think of it this way instead. Every day, family and friends of those 67 people who died are dealing with loss and grieving for a loved one.

Nationwide, 3,450 people lost their lives due to distracted driving in 2016. Earlier this month, Arizona police officer Clayton Townsend was struck and killed by a distracted driver during a traffic stop. The motorist, Jerry Sanstead, crossed two lanes of traffic before colliding with the pulled-over vehicle and then Officer Townsend. Standstead was booked on suspicion of manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and endangerment. He is out on a $100,000 bond. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office will now have to decide what charges to file against him. Townsend, 26, leaves behind a wife and 10-month old child.

In Colorado, lawmakers are working to improve the safety of all road users, whether motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians. A bill aimed at further decreasing distracted driving in Colorado was recently introduced to the Senate on January 24, 2019. Senate Bill 19-012 - the hands-free distracted driving bill -  is now under consideration by the Senate Transportation & Energy Committee. (Click here to take action).

Photo Credit: Bob Carmichael - Courtesy of Cyclists 4 Community

Photo Credit: Bob Carmichael - Courtesy of Cyclists 4 Community

SB19-012 would prohibit drivers of ALL ages from using wireless telephones while driving. Current law only prohibits individuals younger than 18 years of age from using wireless telephones.

The proposed bill also extends the existing provision of the use of wireless telephones to include all mobile electronic devices.  These are handheld or portable electronic devices used for amusement, transmitting wireless data, or voice communication between two or more parties, e.g.  pagers, electronic games, laptop computers, or tablets. Also included are wearable mobile devices with a touchscreen. Think watches that monitor your heart rate, daily activity, movement, etc. For a complete list of mobile electronic devices, click here.


Images below courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation - #CrashNotAccident

Penalties for distracted driving would also increase under SB19-012 as follows:

Source: Colorado Legislative Council Staff Issue Brief, Number 17-28, July 2017

Source: Colorado Legislative Council Staff Issue Brief, Number 17-28, July 2017

  • First violation - $300 and 4 points - a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense

  • Second violation - $500 and 6 points - class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense

  • Third or subsequent violation - $750 and 8 points - class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense


Distracted driving is a global problem. Countries such as Canada are implementing tougher penalties. In Ontario, convicted distracted drivers will have their license suspended for three days on a first offense, seven days after two convictions, and for 30 days for third and further convictions. Fines would increase as well with drivers paying up to $3,000 for third or subsequent convictions.

One way to limit distracted driving is to use a cell phone blocking app or device. Drivers are prevented from making or accepting calls, texting, or accessing the internet while the vehicle is in motion.

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If you own an iPhone, check out the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature in your phone’s settings. Phone notifications are withheld while driving, and an automatic response will be sent to the person trying to reach you.

Apple CarPlay features Siri voice control and allows you to make calls, send and receive messages, listen to music, and get directions while keeping your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road.

Android Auto offers drivers hands-free voice control using Google Assistant. The Assistant can help you get step-by-step directions, call phone numbers from your contacts, chat with your favorite apps, read your messages aloud, and text back.

There are plenty of apps on the market that help prevent distracted driving and help parents monitor their teen driver’s cell phone use. Check out the Drive Safe Mode or LifeSaver apps. LifeSaver blocks all phone usage and lets parents know that their child arrived safely. The app locks the phone once the vehicle starts moving. It gives drivers iTunes rewards for safe driving. Check out more apps here.

CDOT is working to bring awareness to driving safely on Colorado’s roads. Their digital message boards focus on distracted driving, seat belts and work zone safety. The messages are designed to grab the driver’s attention, and they get people talking. Maybe you have even noticed some of the messages directed at distracted driving.


Looking to the future, autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars may be part of the solution to making roadways safer. Many collisions are preventable and are a result of distracted drivers who text, talk on a cell phone, or enter data into a navigation app, etc. There are lots of pros and cons to autonomous vehicles. An argument for autonomous vehicles is certainly that 81 percent of the estimated 5.5 million car crashes that occur in the United States every year are caused by human error. Computers could reduce the number of collisions each year. There is also no chance for a computer to be distracted, which is a leading cause of crashes every year.

Currently, testing of driverless cars is only allowed in five states: California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and Washington. Experts predict that the first commercially available semi-autonomous cars could be on the road in the next one to two years. (More here).

A big piece of the distracted driving battle is making sure no cyclists are driving their cars (or bikes) with phones or devices in hand.  We have all seen it - cyclists sitting up on their bikes two-handed texting on their phones with their faces in their screens.  It is up to us in the cycling community to perfect our behavior and do this right, and lead by example.


CALL TO ACTION FOR CYCLISTS:

If cyclists driving cars cannot put down their own phones, how can we ask motorists who ARE NOT cyclists to do so?  We cannot lambaste "those motorists" for driving distracted while exhibiting the same behaviors. It always helps our causes and battles when we can say cyclists are doing everything we can as a group to improve our own conduct.

We have more information on distracted driving and what you can do to make the roads safer for all users in our blog post Take the Pledge:  April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Don’t put others at risk. Put your mobile electronic devices down while driving or just turn them off.


Take the Pledge: April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

By Maureen & Megan

Cyclist John Kirby was riding in the bike lane in Parker, Colorado in November 2017 when he was hit and killed by an alleged distracted driver.

(A special thanks to our friend Russell, for posing for this photo.  Don't worry, the car is not in motion!). 

(A special thanks to our friend Russell, for posing for this photo.  Don't worry, the car is not in motion!). 

According to the arrest affidavit, the driver became distracted when she “looked down to push the off button on the vehicle’s stereo,” to turn off an incoming call. That’s when she veered into the bike lane hitting Kirby.

Any activity that could divert a driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving is distracted driving. This includes the use of cell phones and electronics and eating or drinking. If, while driving, you are entering information into your navigation system, changing radio stations or typing a text message, you are distracted.

It’s negligent, unsafe and puts others at risk, especially cyclists on roadways.

Not surprisingly, distracted driving is on the rise nationwide, especially with more people using cell phones. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes due to distracted driving in 2015.

The Colorado Department of Transportation reports that:

  • Distracted drivers cause an average of 40 crashes every day in Colorado.
  • Sixty seven deaths in 2016 involved Colorado distracted drivers.

Our office has handled numerous cases where distractions involving a cell phone were either strongly suspected or were absolutely involved in causing the collision. 

One of Megan’s most common practices is to check social media for photos the at-fault driver has taken on their phone while in the car (has anyone else noticed this bizarre trend of taking selfies of oneself sitting in the driver’s seat with the seatbelt on?).  Megan has used these photos to argue that the driver frequently used, touched, messed with, and operated a phone while in the vehicle. 

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There is no question that juries punish this behavior with larger verdicts.  Interestingly though, there seems to be a trend where jurors, cyclists, society at large, “tsk-tsks” this behavior and yet, it seems so prolific that “everyone is doing it.”  Why do we shame others for the very conduct we ourselves do? 

One issue that seems to arise is the use of map apps or directions to get to a destination. 

There are two solutions to this that would remove the phone from a driver’s arm’s reach:  One, use the car’s built-in NAV system and don’t use the phone for directions.  Two, type the destination into the phone and set it to an audible turn-by-turn guidance format.  Then, stash the phone back in the backseat or trunk where you cannot reach it. 

Numerous studies and statistics show that once the phone is within eyesight of a driver or user, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to check it, touch it, use it ...  The phone is an addictive device for most users.  Therefore, to ensure you are never a distracted driver, it needs to be out of sight each time you operate your vehicle. 

Several laws in Colorado are aimed at distracted driving:

C.R.S. § 42-4-239 states:

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A person under eighteen years of age shall not use a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle.
A person eighteen years of age or older shall not use a wireless telephone for the purpose of engaging in text messaging or other similar forms of manual data entry while operating a motor vehicle.

Forty seven states make text messaging illegal while driving.

C.R.S. § 42-4-1411 addresses the use of earphones:

 It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle while wearing earphones that include a headset, radio, tape player, or other similar device which provides the listener with music, radio, or recorded information and which covers all or a portion of the ears.

Do these laws do enough to protect cyclists?

In January and February 2018, bills aimed at decreasing distracted driving throughout Colorado and protecting vulnerable road users did not make it out of committee or were voted down during the Colorado legislative session.

Senate Bills 18-140 and 18-049 would have made careless driving a class 1 misdemeanor and increased the penalties imposed for distracted driving.

“Keep pushing car companies to produce technology that makes steering and texting at the same time impossible.”
— Tim Blumenthal, People For Bikes

What we can do to make the roads safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians:

  1. Take the pledge to drive free of distractions. Whether you do this online or privately, pledge to drive without texting, checking social media, changing the radio station, multi-tasking or any behavior that is going to take your eyes off the road.
  2. All cyclists, while operating their motor vehicles, should be distraction-free.  If we want to set the example and make roads safer for us when we are riding, then our call to action when we are motorists is to put those phones in the backseat or truck (as many in Canada do, given the harsh penalties there for even touching one’s phone). 
  3. Check out the National Safety Council pledge here or the “It Can Wait” campaign here if you want to make your pledge official.
  4. Advocate for laws that will impose tougher penalties for distracted driving. Speak up for laws that will make cycling safer and provide better infrastructure for cyclists.
  5. Get involved with a bike organization such as PeopleForBikes, whose aim is to make riding better for everyone. They represent all types of cyclists and work at city, state and national levels to improve bike infrastructure and provide support to bicycle advocacy groups on a local level.  Membership is free so SIGN UP! 
  6. Pull off to the side of the road if you need to make a call or just turn your cell phone off while driving.
  7. Be a role model. If you are a parent, put down your phone while driving when your kids are in the car. Don’t call or text your kids if they know you might be driving. Set a good example!
  8. If you are interested in your state’s distracted driving laws, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association has put together a state-by-state chart here