In late-February of last year, 28-year-old Athina Munoz barreled south down a rural Colorado highway when she realized she had an urgent text message to send. She swerved into oncoming traffic as she did so, killing an older couple on a motorcycle instantly. Munoz also tested three times the limit for alcohol, which helped earn her a 20-year prison term earlier this year.
Last year saw 603 other people killed on Colorado’s roads, the deadliest year for the state’s drivers in more than a decade, and an 11 percent jump over the year before. The state’s Department of Transportation chief blamed the increase on an “epidemic of distracted driving,” when he spoke with the Denver Post.
“We’ve kind of seen the limit of taking dangerous intersections out and putting in grade-separated crossings or adding clear zones,” CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt explained in that interview. “We can engineer the system as well as we can. But the behavioral stuff is not something that we can move the needle on drastically, except for our education programs.”
In fact, the latest national study reveals that texting and driving is the cause behind one out of every four motor vehicle accidents. According to CDOT, it’s a disturbing trend that actually crosses generational lines – with more than 37 percent of distracted driving accidents over the last few years caused by drivers between 21 and 34.
Lawmakers Beef Up Penalties
In response to this alarming spike in distracted driving, Colorado lawmakers passed SB 17-27, which increases the first-time penalty to $300 from $50. More importantly, it also significantly bumps up the point penalty for first-time offenders from one to four. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law earlier this month.
“We all try to multitask in the modern world, but when it comes to texting while driving, no message is worth a life,” explained Colorado State Sen. Lois Court, author of the bill.
Incidentally, the new law goes beyond simple text messaging. Colorado now classifies any interaction with a smartphone screen that leads to distracted driving as a potential violation.
Part of a Larger Trend
Colorado is one of 47 states – along with the District of Columbia – that has imposed a total ban on texting while driving. The new law makes Colorado one of the toughest states when it comes to cracking down on texting and driving. Although it still doesn’t come close to Alaska, where a first-time violation can cost you as much as $10,000 fine and even land you a one-year jail sentence.
If you’ve been hurt in a motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted driver –call the skilled Colorado personal injury lawyers at Burg Simpson at 303-792-5595 today. Or take a minute to fill out our Case Evaluation form online right now to discuss your case for FREE.