Without any particular knowledge of the law, one might reasonably assume that causing a fatal accident through careless driving would result in serious penalties. In Colorado though, up until a few weeks ago, this assumption would have been mistaken.

Historically, careless drivers have received little more than a slap on the wrist from the state, regardless of the consequences of their actions. Until recently careless driving resulting in death warranted only four points on a careless driver’s record, akin to exceeding the speed limit by 10 to 19 miles per hour or failing to yield the right-of-way.

Accordingly, someone with a mediocre or even poor driving record could be careless enough to kill another person while driving, still be allowed to drive, and escape any significant penalty under then existing traffic laws.

It took a personal tragedy for this senseless law to change. Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer lost a good friend in an accident caused by a careless driver; the driver killed two people and was sentenced only to six months in jail through work release.

Recognizing the absurdity of this penalty in light of the gravity of the consequences, President Shaffer introduced SB 204. The proposed law, co-sponsored by Representative Judy Solano, increases the penalties for careless driving resulting in death from 4 points to 12 points. In most cases, if a driver accumulates 12 points or more within a 12 month period, the driver faces an automatic license suspension of one year.

Governor Ritter signed this bill into law in late May.

Increasing the penalty for careless driving resulting in death will result in more drivers’ licenses being suspended. Hopefully, it will also result in safer roads for all people in Colorado.

As Governor Ritter noted in his press release publicizing the new law, nothing can make up for the loss of a life. However, the new law makes it clear that drivers on Colorado roads have a duty to be careful, and will face serious consequences when they are not.