An Aspen lawmaker wants people to slow down when driving on stretches of road where wildlife are frequent by creating wildlife crossing zones—and then wants to double the fine for those who speed in these zones to encourage them to slow down. Some lawmakers pushed back against what they said is government overreach by seeking new revenue in the name of safety. But despite any arguments to the contrary, the bill passed the Senate today with modest bipartisan support.
House Bill 1238, sponsored by Democratic Senator Gail Schwartz of Aspen, would create wildlife crossing zones—similar to construction zones—where fines for speeding can be doubled. The proposal limits the designated zones to 100 miles of roadway and sets forth criteria needed to create the crossing zones. The house measure was vigorously debated on the Senate floor.
Schwartz said that in the last 2 years the number of animals killed on our roads has gone up by 75 percent, and human fatalities due to vehicle collisions with animals have doubled.
“This is a safety bill that protects the public,” said Schwartz. “We have waited too long in Colorado to address this problem of slaughtering animals and killing people on the roadways as a result of not having adequate protections.”
GOP senator Mike Kopp of Littleton, recently elected minority leader after Sen. Josh Penry stepped down from the post, doesn’t believe that doubling fines solves the problem of animal-related accidents, and that other solutions, such as signage, can help to curtail accidents.
“You don’t have to raise the penalties to double the amount in order to forestall some of these unfortunate incidents,” said Kopp. “This is just an excuse to create a new pool of fine revenue and our motorists in the state deserve better.”
Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, whose district encompasses areas that would likely be subject to the measure, agreed with Kopp, and would like to see the issue studied more before the zones are created. A previous version of the bill had called for such a study. Whitehead believes the public will become aggravated and annoyed when faced with paying more in fines.
“In my mind this is like a construction zone with double fines but the difference is construction zones go away. Wildlife zones will always be there, and there will be double fines, and they will be speed traps,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead suggested that in addition to increased signage, more fences should be erected to keep the wildlife from entering roadways.
“Controlling the wildlife instead of controlling the people is probably a better approach,” said Whitehead.
Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, insisted that the measure is not about the fines and the revenue collected, but about saving lives, especially of those who may be unaware of Colorado’s wildlife population.
“This isn’t about doubling fines, this is about saving lives. Tourists are not aware of where wildlife crossings are. This is an awareness measure. said Tochtrop. “I don’t think anybody wants to see an elk go through their front windshield.
Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Republican from Broomfield, suggested that the wildlife are perhaps equally unaware.
“Wildlife don’t conveniently stay in the marked crosswalk, they don’t conveniently go to where the signs are that say this is where a wildlife crossing is,” said Mitchell. “There are lots of day-to-day risks on the road that we can’t always chase with more and more severe penalties.”
Schwartz remained steadfast in her support of the measure and the increased safety it is intended to provide.
“I don’t want the blood of our citizens and visitors on my hands. A modest reduction in speed could save a life,” said Schwartz.