Colo. Senate panel backs cell phone bill
April 23, 2009
DENVER ” A bill requiring drivers to use handsfree devices while talking on cell phones is advancing at the state Capitol, but it could run into trouble later.
The Senate Finance Committee backed the measure (House Bill 1094) in a 4-3 vote Thursday. Shelley Forney, whose 9-year-old daughter, Erica, died after being hit by a driver suspected of talking on her cell phone, watched from the audience throughout the hearing.
Adult drivers would have to use some kind of handsfree device, such as ear buds or a speaker on their dashboard, to talk while driving unless it’s an emergency. Drivers under 18, as well as bus and taxi drivers, wouldn’t be able to talk or text on cell phones at all.
Verizon Wireless and the State Patrol support the bill, which has already passed the House. The Senate Appropriations Committee will review the measure next.
Two of the lawmakers who voted yes said they had concerns and indicated they might change their minds later.
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, reached down and pulled out her ear buds to prove she supported handsfree driving. But she also said driving with children can be a bigger distraction than talking on a cell phone. She said it would be better to educate people about safe driving than to outlaw every distraction.
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“We can’t legislate responsibility to this extreme extent,” said Hudak, who tried to change the bill so it would apply only to teen drivers. After the hearing she gave Forney a hug in the hallway outside.
Democratic Sen. Jim Isgar, a farmer and rancher from southwestern Colorado, said he wouldn’t talk on a cell phone while driving in Denver but he thought it was acceptable while driving in the country.
“When I’m driving long distances, sometimes that’s what keeps me awake,” said Isgar, who also said he was a yes vote “for now”.
Forney was at the Capitol for the third time this session to urge lawmakers to pass the bill. Each time she brings a photograph of her daughter. On Thursday, she held a silver-framed photo on her lap as lawmakers took testimony and cast their votes.
Forney said the bill needs to pass to prevent more people from being killed.
“She has a face, and they need to see it,” she said.