Beginning Tuesday, it will be a crime for Colorado drivers to send text messages or e-mails while driving, and for drivers under 18 to use a phone at all while behind the wheel.
But Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said the law will be difficult to enforce, and his deputies will continue to focus on the culture of "bad driving" rather than one particular offense.
The law, sponsored earlier this year by state Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, makes it illegal for 16- or 17-year-old drivers to text or talk on the phone -- even with a speakerphone or headset. Adult drivers caught sending text messages, Twitter updates or otherwise entering data into a phone can also be pulled over and ticketed.
Fines for first-time violators are $50, which increases to $100 for repeat offenders. Pelle said the law has been "watered down" substantially from its original version, which would have only allowed adult drivers to use a phone if it had a hands-free device.
"I would call it a 'feel good' law," he said.
The version approved by the statehouse, he said, leaves too many problems for officers.
"You can't tell exactly how old they are, or whether they're dialing a phone number" instead of text messaging, Pelle said of drivers dialing keypads or screens while on the road. "The reality is, what's the difference? What we're going to continue to look for, and emphasize, is bad driving."
He said his deputies will enforce the new law if they clearly catch someone being distracted by a cell phone, but he doesn't see pulling someone over just for holding a phone or pushing buttons as practical, or enforceable.
"The problem is people driving while they're distracted," Pelle said. "It's pretty prolific. When you drive around and you just look at the number of people with their heads down. I think what we need to do is focus on pulling people over and writing tickets for bad driving."
Boulder resident Curtis Johns, 25, said he has similar concerns about the new law.
"I believe that (texting) is something you shouldn't be doing while driving, but it's also something everyone does, including me," he said. "How do you police that?"
He said he worries that the law will just give police "a really interesting excuse to pull someone over," and said educating drivers about the consequences that their bad habits can have should be the priority instead.
Levy, the lawmaker who came up with the bill, disagreed.
"I think (the bill) was an important thing to do," she said. "We have a severe safety hazard on the roads with all the people texting, talking on their phone.
"There are statistics showing an extremely high rate of fatalities of teenagers on the highway. Those are senseless deaths. I think we're saving lives."
Boulder police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said the department hasn't tracked the number of accidents caused by drivers distracted by phones, because most drivers won't admit that's what happened.
She said there are legitimate concerns about how to identify what people are doing on their phones while driving, but city officers are still concerned about "inattentiveness" on the roads.
Some Boulder teens, like Jade Veji, 16, a junior at New Vista High School, agreed with the philosophy behind the law.
"It's kind of a good idea," he said. "It's not a good idea to be multi-tasking while driving."
Austin Bedell, 17, also a New Vista student, agreed.
"I think you should learn to drive before you learn to use a cell phone and drive," he said, adding that none of his friends are too worried about the forthcoming ban treading on their social lives.