A bill that would increase the penalty for texting while driving is gaining traction in Colorado after friends of a couple killed in an accident caused by texting and driving testified at the state capitol.
As The Denver Post reports, friends of Brian and Jacque Lehner, who were killed when a woman who was driving drunk and texting on her phone struck the couple’s motorcycle, told lawmakers Wednesday that it’s time to stiffen the penalties for doing so.
“It is absolutely … killing people,” Cara Denny told a state Senate committee. “It’s killing people we know – that we love – and it’s time for change.”
Senate Bill 27 would increase the penalty for texting while driving to $500 and five points on a driver’s license for a first offense, up from the current fine of $50 and one point, ranking it near the bottom in the nation.
The emotional testimony of the couple’s friends appeared to sway the Republican-led State Affairs Committee, where the Democrat-authored bill was expected to be defeated on party lines. The committee instead delayed a vote until Feb. 1 to address concerns about some ambiguities in the bill, as well as the significant increase in the penalty.
Colorado law bans “engaging in text messaging or other similar forms of manual data entry or transmission while operating a motor vehicle.”
State Trooper Dave Hall acknowledged the law is open to a judge’s interpretation, prompting Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, to say that it needed to be clearer, given the expectation of additional legal challenges and tougher penalties.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lois Court, told the committee she is willing to compromise to win approval but that the steep penalty is designed to get attention.
Colorado is one of at least 46 states that ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Approximately one in every 10 fatal crashes in 2015 involved a distracted driver, according to a Colorado Department of Transportation study.