Distracted Driving – a Threat to All
In 2020, 10,166 crashes involved a Colorado distracted driver, resulting in 1,476 injuries and 68 deaths. Even with these life-threatening consequences, more than 90% of Colorado drivers self-report driving distracted.
Distracted driving is the act of driving while engaged in anything that takes your focus away from the road, including texting, looking after children or pets, talking on the phone or to a passenger, watching videos, eating, or reading. These hazards are widely preventable when drivers pledge to evaluate their own habits and commit to leaving distractions behind. Taking your eyes off of the road for even a few seconds can be hazardous, so do yourself and your community a favor by prioritizing safe, alert driving above all else.
Source: Colorado Department of Transportation
Because distracted driving is a significant threat to cyclists and other vulnerable read users, Bicycle Colorado has supported legislation to prevent cellphone use in cars. In a July 2022 Bike Jeffco meeting, Pete Piccolo, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado provided the following insight:
Distracted driving is a public health crisis and may be the top contributor of injuries and fatalities but is not the only reason for crashes, and legislation is not the only solution. Other solutions are infrastructure, education, public awareness, technology, and enforcement.
Currently the law is that adults can use phones while driving for conversation, but not data entry. There is a $300 fine as a primary offence, or $200 as a secondary offence. Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use a phone at all. In recent years Colorado has had proposed legislation to prohibit anyone from using a phone without a hands-free device.
In 2019 the proposed bill failed due to concerns over racial profiling. No progress was made in 2020 due to focus on COVID. In 2021 no progress was made, again due to other priorities. In 2022, the bill timed out in the House appropriations committee. Arguments against were: 1) racial profiling, and 2) resistance to big government. Another argument from safety advocates is that this distracts from more important legislation such as better infrastructure.
Pete believes there are things we can do individually and as advocacy groups to have a systemic impact on this problem. MADD is a good example of an organization that had a cumulative impact with a comprehensive strategy involving many groups all in alignment. Changing the law for phone use is an important step, but alone will not solve the problem.
We need to build a coalition to have a collective impact, with private and public capital to develop and implement a strategy. Bike Jeffco is ready to stand up to the challenge by talking to other groups and asking what else can we do? We will keep steady pressure on this issue.
What Cyclists Can Do?
- Use a mirror. You should physically look back over your shoulder before moving left, but having a mirror still helps you monitor traffic without constantly having to look behind you.
- Use a high visibility blinking rear light
- Wear bright clothing, a reflective vest or a safety triangle.
- Choose wide streets whose outside lane is so wide that it can easily fit a car and a bike side by side.
- Choose slow streets. The slower a car is going, the more time the driver has to see you.
- Use a device such as the Garmin Varia with a sensor mounted on a seat post to detect cars by radar. These devices show cars represented by dots on a bike computer screen and alarms if a car is about to hit you. The Varia can also have lights and video cameras. Sometimes the only way a hit and run driver can be brought to justice is if there is video footage to identify the vehicle and serve as evidence.