Aspen: Don’t drive, phone |

Aspen: Don’t drive, phone

Anyone who likes to talk on a cell phone while driving may have to disengage the device from their ear while motoring through Aspen in the future.

The Aspen City Council on Monday night narrowly passed an ordinance banning the use of cell phones by drivers, citing studies indicating that those who drive while talking on their cell phones are a hazard to everyone around them.

Voting for the ban were Mayor Rachel Richards and council members Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson. In opposition were council members Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe.

The ordinance, which was proposed by Paulson, now moves on to a public hearing in December before it goes to the council for a final vote on second reading.

According to a memorandum from Assistant City Attorney David Hoefer, people who are driving while talking on a cell phone are four times more likely to be involved in accidents than drivers who are not talking on a cell phone. The memo cited a report in the New England Journal of Medicine and an unidentified “Norwegian study” as having “concluded that the use of mobile telephones increases driver errors, in part by increasing reaction time.”

The proposed ordinance prohibits “a person from operating a motor vehicle on any street or highway within the City of Aspen while dialing, answering, talking or listening on a cellular, analog, wireless, digital or other kind of mobile telephone unless the operator maintains both hands on the applicable steering device,” the memo states.

Someone can use a mobile phone while sitting behind the wheel of a car if the car is not moving or if they have a “hands-free” cell phone, or under a couple of other very specific exemptions: to call police, fire or ambulance officials, or if the caller/driver is acting in his or her official capacity as a police or fire official.

A violation of the new law would not cost points on a driver’s license, but would be prosecuted in municipal court, like a parking ticket, and might earn the perpetrator a fine of up to $100. Hoefer predicted that enforcement of the law would require that additional Aspen Police officers be hired.

Both Hershey and McCabe cited philosophical problems with the idea.

“It’s going to be absolutely impossible to enforce,” said Hershey, explaining that he has a “libertarian” dislike for such laws and insisting that “there are other things which distract drivers” just as much as cell phones.

“We have more laws on our books than we need,” McCabe added, and asked about the propriety of citing an unnamed Norwegian study.

“Is this Svenn and Johann talking over a beer,” he asked rhetorically, and suggested women applying makeup while driving are just as hazardous as those who talk on cell phones.

Mayor Richards, while remarking that the arguments have “credence,” suggested that such laws often come into play after accidents happen, in such things as deciding liability.

In addition, she argued, the function of cell phones is becoming vastly more far reaching, including Internet connections, e-mail, even picture phones.

“I can see these things becoming more and more distracting,” she predicted.

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