Woman using cell phone while driving
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Woman using phone while driving

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A slightly diluted bill that would fine motorists who hold cellphones or other mobile devices while driving was approved by the Colorado state Senate on Thursday.

As introduced, Senate Bill 12 would have hefty fines against motorists who hold cellphones while in traffic, a form of distracted driving, according to its sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Lois Court of Denver.

However, she received pushback, even from her party, on the measure’s high fines: $300 and four points on the license for a first offense, $500 and six points for a second, and up to $750 and eight points for a third or subsequent.

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The bill was amended in two committee hearings, dropping the fine down to $50 and two points for a first offense, $150 and four points for a second, and $300 and four points for a third or subsequent offense.

Senate Bill 12 doesn’t strictly prohibit cellphone use in a car, as Court explained it. A cellphone in a hands-free accessory would be OK, as would activating a call, for example. Emergency use also would be allowed.

The proposed law also requires that a law enforcement officer actually see someone using a cellphone to cite that driver.

A driver at a red light or otherwise stopped or parked could not be cited for using a cellphone, either.

State law bans cellphone use while driving for those 18 and under.

Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is one of two members of the Senate who holds a commercial driving license (Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling is the other). The bill excludes truckers, but, as Coram and others have pointed out, federal law comes down hard on commercial drivers who use cellphones while on the road. The fine is $2,750 for a first offense, and an employer can be fined up to $11,000.

Sen. Dennis Hisey, R-Fountain, offered an amendment to lower the fines even further, pointing out newer vehicles already have some form of hands-free devices for using with cellphones. Those who are driving older vehicles will be the most impacted and less likely to be able to afford higher fines, he said.

Under Hisey’s amendment, the second fine would $100 and the third and subsequent violation $200. The points assessed would drop on the second offense down to two points.

Chief legislative reporter

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