Why did one state make it easier to text while driving?

When it comes to distracted driving, the numbers tell the story. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that 391,000 people were injured by distracted driving while another 3,477 lost their lives to this dangerous conduct in 2015 alone.

As if this wasn't discouraging enough, consider also that the NHTSA has found that as many as 660,000 motorists are on their phones at any given time during daylight hours, meaning the risk of being involved in a distracted driving crash is disturbingly high.  

Unfortunately, this is far from a new phenomenon, as distracted driving accidents caused by cell phones -- particularly texting -- have been taking an astounding toll on our roads and highways for years. In fact, 46 states have now banned all drivers from texting while driving, including Georgia, in an attempt to address this epidemic.

Some states are actually poised to take things even further, such as Washington, which will see a new law take effect next month banning drivers from even holding an electronic device while driving or stopped in traffic.

Given this concerted crackdown, it perhaps comes as something of a surprise to learn that one state has actually softened its stance on distracted driving.

Which state has altered its approach to distracted driving?

Colorado law now prohibits drivers from texting while driving carelessly, a departure from its longstanding law outlawing texting while driving in any capacity.

Accordingly, a motorist would face no penalty for texting while stuck in traffic, stopped at a light or pulled over to the side of the road.

What exactly does "texting while driving carelessly" entail?

There is a two-part test that must be satisfied before law enforcement officials in Colorado can issue a citation:

  • The officer must see the driver texting.
  • The officer must observe careless driving, meaning driving "without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances."

To illustrate, a citation could be issued if an officer sees a motorist texting while also speeding and/or drifting out of their lane.

In this sense, texting while driving has become sort of a secondary offense in Colorado, meaning motorists can only be ticketed for it after having already committed some other type of violation.

Why did state lawmakers adopt this weaker standard?

In a strange twist, this new weaker standard for texting while driving was accompanied by a rather steep increase in penalties, such that those caught texting while driving carelessly now face a $300 fine versus a $50 fine, and four points on their driver's license versus just one.   

According to safety officials and state lawmakers, the new law therefore not only serves as a deterrent owing to these stringent penalties, but also helps ensure that law enforcement is devoting its efforts to catching only the most dangerous drivers.

It will be interesting to see how effective this new approach proves to be.

What are your thoughts?

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options if a distracted driver has left you with serious personal injuries, or caused an unimaginable loss.

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