ROBERT ALLEN
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December 1, 2009
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Local cops doubt effectiveness of new cell phone traffic laws

SUMMIT COUNTY - The statewide law against texting while driving became effective Tuesday, but local law enforcers said the well-intentioned rules won't be easy to enforce.

"How do you know - with these new PDA phones - whether they're dialing or texting unless you see (it) for quite some time?" Summit County Sheriff John Minor said Tuesday.

The new laws, intended to reduce wrecks cause by distracted drivers, also prohibit anyone under age 18 from talking on cell telephones while driving - unless it's an emergency.

"How do you tell if the person is under age 18 by looking at them?" Minor said. "I don't like when (they) place those kind of age limits."

Both the cell phone and text messaging bans are for primary enforcement, meaning officers may pull over people who appear to be in violation without another offense - such as speeding - having occurred.

A first-time offense of either new law results in a $50 fine, and a second ticket is $100.

Colorado joins 19 states, the District of Columbia and Guam in banning texting for all drivers. In six states - including California and New York as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands - all drivers are banned from talking on cell phones while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association at www.ghsa.org.

Other states, such as Utah, treat speaking on a cell phone as a distracted-driver offense ticketable through secondary enforcement, after another traffic violation has occurred.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a survey last summer showing that more than 20 percent of drivers text and steer.

Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt said texting on the road "needs to stop" and that "it's one of those common-sense things that I think will make a difference."

"I think it'll be difficult to enforce, but it's a great idea," Hanschmidt said.

The original legislation presented to the Colorado General Assembly would have required a ban of adults talking on cell phones while driving as well.

Hanschmidt said he was nearly involved in a collision once when a woman was pulling out of her driveway while talking on her cell phone.

"I was in a marked police car driving on the street of a residential neighborhood," he said, adding that he had to lock up the brakes to avoid a wreck.

"I did stop her and we had a chat, and I asked her to pay more attention and not be on a cell phone," Hanschmidt said.

Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday recognized high school students who participated In an effort to help spread word of the new laws. The students created public service announcements in video, audio and print categories.

"In Colorado last year, 51 people were killed by distracted drivers, and at least 11 of those deaths were attributable to cell phones," according to an e-mail from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The Denver Post contributed to this article.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated Dec 1, 2009 08:29PM Published Dec 1, 2009 08:29PM Copyright 2009 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.