Distracted driving is responsible for up to 10% of fatal vehicle accidents in the U.S. It ranks as the top “human contributing factor” in motor vehicle crashes. Certainly, distraction may have many causes, from eating or applying makeup, to children and pets in the vehicle. But it has one prevalent — and deadly — cause that we can easily reduce: handheld cellphone use.
Texting while driving is already illegal in Colorado, along with 47 other states and the District of Columbia. To further minimize the dangers of distracted driving, half of the states require drivers to use hands-free devices while driving. It’s time Colorado joins them.
We live in an age of previously unimaginable driver safety features. But every Colorado vehicle is still piloted by a human being, and humans are fallible and subject to distraction. With increasing pedestrian and vehicle fatalities, the likelihood of a distracted driver hitting you or a loved one is very real.
Craig Towler knows, from painful personal experience, the dangers distracted drivers pose. He is fortunate to be alive after a distracted driver slammed into him as he unloaded his SUV outside his Boulder home, resulting in the amputation of both his legs.
Today, he lives a full life, but he’s endured almost unimaginable change — and he’s here to tell the tale only because he’s one of the lucky survivors.
“When you’re driving a vehicle, you’re driving a weapon,” he warns. Craig, who has worked with Boulder’s Vision Zero and serves on Accessible Boulder’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, shares his story in hopes of protecting others like him.
Craig is not an anomaly. An average of 42 crashes happen every day in Colorado due to distracted driving. Last year, a record 672 people were killed on state roadways, the highest number since 2002 and a number that has risen by 50% since 2011 due to the spike in unsafe drivers, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Pedestrian fatalities have soared in the past decade, rising by 46% compared to a 5% increase in other traffic deaths nationally.
Why is the problem so significant? Some 95% of drivers own a smartphone, and more than 90% of Colorado drivers self-report driving distracted. Almost half report handheld cellphone use while driving. And, we would argue, that number includes only the individuals who report their activities honestly.
Imagine 9 out of 10 drivers around you potentially checking texts, viewing just one “must-see” TikTok or gaming while they drive. That certainly doesn’t sound safe to us.
Hands-free driving laws are working in other states. Twelve of 15 states saw an average of 16% reduction in fatal crashes within two years after their hands-free law passed, according to federal highway safety data. Six of the states and DC saw a greater than 20% decrease in fatality rates. And on average, 4.7% of insurance premium savings are attributable to distracted-driving laws – saving residents money.
To protect Coloradans on roads and sidewalks, it’s essential that drivers have both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and phones tucked away for hands-free use. That’s why we’ve joined forces to draft Senate Bill 175, which would require drivers to use cellphones only in hands-free mode.
Senate Bill 175 includes specific language to promote fair and equitable enforcement by state and local police. It also would include a statewide public awareness campaign to give Coloradans plenty of time to comply, with the ability for first-time offenders to show proof of purchase of a hands-free device and be found not guilty while in court.
We urge Coloradans to come forward and support our state in joining the trend toward safer roads and highways. It’s worth it if it prevents even one more accident, like the accident that injured Craig Towler and those that kill dozens of our neighbors each year.
Rhonda Fields, of Aurora, represents District 29 in the state Senate and chairs the Health Committee. Chris Hansen, of Denver, represents District 31 in the state Senate and chairs the Appropriations Committee, and is the vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)
Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.