Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cell Phone Bill OK'd by House Committee

A bill that would bar drivers from using a cellular phone without a hands-free device was approved by a House committee Tuesday.

HB 1094 would also make text messaging while operating a motor vehicle unlawful and prohibit minors who are operating a vehicle from using a cell phone while doing so.

The House Transportation and Energy Committee heard emotional testimony on the measure before approving it on a bipartisan 9-2 vote.

"I want to honor my daughter and know that I did everything I could do to prevent another person from being hurt or killed," Shelley Forney said. "I want you to think about the numerous lives that will be saved by passing this law today."

Forney, of Fort Collins, is the mother of 9-year old Erica Forney, who was killed in Fort Collins last autumn after a driver talking on a cell phone hit her while she was riding her bicycle in a bike lane.

Other witnesses supporting the bill included representatives of the state's law enforcement community and insurance industry.

Sponsoring Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, urged committee members to keep in mind that there are studies demonstrating that talking on a cell phone while driving, even through a hands-free device, distracts drivers.

"Your individual decision whether to talk and drive doesn't just affect you," Levy said. "It affects every other person on the road with you."

No one testified against the bill, which includes an exceptions for commercial truck drivers, police officers and firefighters and some state Department of Transportation employees.

But Republican Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch said he thought the measure was an overreaction and that use of a cell phone while driving should not be treated any differently than "tuning the iPod or having a Big Mac."

Aside from McNulty, the only other member of the committee to vote "no" on HB 1094 was Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead. Republicans Randy Baumgardner, Steve King and Marsha Looper voted with the majority.

The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee.