Colorado Is No Longer a Place Where Careless Drivers Get Away With Hurting People

Street safety advocates watch as Gov. Jared Polis wears a bike helmet while signing a bill into law that stiffens penalties against careless drivers who seriously injure vulnerable road users.
Street safety advocates watch as Gov. Jared Polis wears a bike helmet while signing a bill into law that stiffens penalties against careless drivers who seriously injure vulnerable road users.

When careless drivers severely injure pedestrians, bicyclists, police officers and other vulnerable road users, they will no longer drive away from the scene of a crash with a light penalty. Under Senate Bill 19-175, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law this morning at the Denver Bicycle Cafe, Colorado became the 10th state to enact legislation that defines vulnerable road users and sharpens the punishment for careless drivers who hurt them.

“At the end of the day, safety is what it’s all about,” said Polis. “Protecting people from injuries. Protecting people’s lives. It’s now the law of Colorado.”

A driver hit and seriously injured Triny Willerton, a mother of five, while she was cycling last year. She hopes the bill will protect vulnerable road users. Photo: Andy Bosselman
A driver hit and seriously injured Triny Willerton, a mother of five, while she was cycling last year. She hopes the bill will protect vulnerable road users. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Before it took effect today, drivers could severely injure someone in a crash and receive just a four-point penalty on their license. If the driver had a clean record, they could have caused injuries in three more crashes before having their license revoked under the state’s 12-point system. Now, such an offense is a class-one traffic misdemeanor that could result in a license suspension, paying restitution to the victim and other penalties.

Before signing the bill, Polis put on a bike helmet to show support for cyclists and spoke to street safety advocates and media about creating a safe environment for people who use mobility options other than cars.

We want Colorado to be safe for people to get around,” said Polis. “Whether that means biking to work, whether it means walking to work, whether it means you need a wheelchair to get around, we need to make sure that we’re a safe state that gives people those choices.”

Triny Willerton of Boulder came out to support the bill after a crash last May. While cycling, a driver hit her from behind, which catapulted her through the air, fractured 12 bones and punctured a lung. Before going to the hospital — conscious but unaware of how badly she was injured — she worried about her children.

The vulnerable road user bill awaits Gov. Polis' signature ahead of a signing ceremony this morning at the Denver Bicycle Cafe. Photo: Andy Bosselman
The vulnerable road user bill awaits Gov. Polis’ signature ahead of a signing ceremony this morning at the Denver Bicycle Cafe. Photo: Andy Bosselman

“I have five kids. All I could think about how much my kids are going to need me,” she said in an interview before the ceremony. “When I found out that the driver who hit me, if convicted, would only get four points on his record, to me it was just [mind-blowing]. I really wanted to change the law.”

Willerton recovered fully but wants the law to make everyone in the state drive more safely.

“I’m just sick of hearing about people getting killed out there – and hurt,” she said.

Other street safety measures failed in the legislature this year, including SB 19-012, the distracted driving bill.

  • The Crosshairs of America

    Nice photo op. The helmet especially. Nothing says “I care” like a bike helmet. Where are the cops that are going to enforce this law? LOL. The cops won’t even know this is the law. It’s another empty gesture that signals that cycling is a dreadfully dangerous activity. Cower in fear, Colorado.

    • Philip Holman

      It’s the courts who hand out the penalties and punishment for careless driving where this bill increases those penalties if it involves injuring a vulnerable road user. The role of the police hasn’t changed.

  • Dennis R Smythe

    It appears this is a step in the right direction-careless drivers certainly have to be held accountable. This brings up another issue with penalties/fines increasing I can see even more hit and runs happening. The police rely on the public to witness and report the offender. I have seen many vehicles with missing front license plates and/or plates that have an opaque plastic cover that makes the plates unreadable. Both these issues are unlawful. Please enforce these laws so the public can help and report the offending driver.

    • Wranger

      I worry about this leading to more hit and runs, however, they’re so prevalent now that will it really make a difference? At least when the driver can be tracked down they’ll be more likely to be punished in a real way. Maybe, just maybe, after a few drivers suffer actual consequences then drivers will start to think twice about looking at their devices while they drive a multi-ton vehicle at 50 MPH down Colfax. Fingers crossed. In the meantime I’ll consider getting cameras on my bike to help ensure that any driver who hits me gets punished to the full extent of the law.

  • Glad to see signs of coalition between people in wheelchairs and those on bikes, scooters, and skateboards. For the sake of the climate, we need every level of government to commit to Vision Zero. Bike4Peace.com

  • Jackie E

    I appreciate Governor Polis signing this bill. Now it just needs to be enforced, as my husband and I have had several incidents on our bikes and as pedistrians this past month where drivers run red lights or do not yield for right hand turns on red. Where are these careless individuals coming from?

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