Aspen mixed on proposed state cell phone law |

Aspen mixed on proposed state cell phone law

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Though he says he has changed his ways, Aspenite Chris Belmont is willing to acknowledge close calls in his past involving a car and a cell phone.

“I’ve been texting at 50 miles per hour and you look up and you’re on the shoulder and the car is at a 45-degree angle,” he said.

That’s part of why he supports a proposed Colorado ban on texting and talking on hand-held devices while driving.

“I think it’s obvious cell phones are the cause of many accidents,” he said Thursday.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the state House of Representatives advanced House Bill 1094 out of the House Transportation and Energy Committee. If passed, the bill would require all drivers to use hands-free cell phone devices. It also would ban text messaging while driving.

Drivers 17 and younger would be banned from talking on cell phones altogether, except in an emergency. The ban also would extend to many professional drivers, including school bus, taxi and limo drivers.

The first offense would carry a $50 fine, and subsequent offenses would earn drivers a $100 fine.

It’s not the first time Aspenites have looked at the possibility of an automobile cell phone ban. About four years ago, then-City Councilman Terry Paulson suggested a ban within the city limits, said Sally Spaulding, communications specialist for the city of Aspen. The proposed ban never mustered enough support to pass.

Today, such an idea gets mixed reviews from Aspenites.

Standing outside the Aspen Post Office on Thursday, Aspen resident Bob Leatherman said he approved of the bill. Among other things, he has seen distracted Aspen drivers tie up intersections because they’re not paying attention to who has the right of way, he said.

But Carbondale resident Tony Merkel wasn’t in favor of the proposed bill. Since he works in property management, he has to be on his phone constantly. Over time, he said, he’s developed the skill of driving while holding a phone.

“I can plow snow and talk on the phone,” he said.

But Aspenite Ray Peritz pointed out that with a headset, he can turn his head and see out his side windows, without an arm in the way.

Mostly, he uses a headset when driving while talking ” but not always. He said he would if doing so was mandatory.

Even though the bill arguably creates a double-standard for teenagers and adults, many Aspenites under 17 supported it.

“Teenagers are way less careful and they’ve driven for less time,” pointed out Sydney Sailor, 17, who said she supported such a ban.

“Everyone does it,” said Sarah McClanahan, 15, of texting while driving. “We all do it. And it’s really dangerous.”

“If not texting, then they’ll talk on the phone,” said Cadara Sanders, also 15.

McClanahan said she “strongly agreed” with a law that would ban texting and talking on the phone for people 17 and under.

But Jacqueline Jones, 15, said she thought such a law would affect teenagers’ ability to communicate with people like their parents.

“I don’t think it’s really that great,” she said.

Local law enforcement agencies said they don’t keep statistics on how many accidents are caused by drivers talking on cell phones or texting.

But Tom Grady, director of operations at the sheriff’s office, said it was clear to him that drivers on cell phones are distracted ” and he believed a ban on cell phones would reduce accidents.

The problem is, he said, holding a cell phone is hardly the only distraction for drivers: So is putting on make-up, fiddling with an iPod, reading a newspaper or eating while driving.

“I support it,” said Grady. “But I also support a cheeseburger ban.”

Grady also pointed out that enforcement will be give officers yet another violation to find.

“Do you really think the world of law enforcement can afford to enforce cell phone use?” he asked.

Stephanie Dasarao, public information officer with the city of Aspen, agreed that cell phone enforcement would provide an additional challenge for the department’s officers.

“It will be interesting to see, if it is passed, how it will impact our ability to do traffic control and also look for cell phone violators,” she said.

Alan Pallie, a Californian visiting Aspen on Thursday, said even though California has a law requiring hands-free devices, he still sees people driving while holding phones to their ear.

“That bothers me a lot,” he said.

Tim Clark, a South African living in Aspen, agreed many drivers don’t respect bans. Drivers holding a cell phone in South Africa can be subject to a fine of between $60 and $80, he said. Still, one of his friends recently broke a leg when he was hit by a driver on a cell phone. Another was recently involved in a fender bender blamed on a cell phone.

“To lose a hand while you’re driving, it’s pretty big,” he said.

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