Oklahoma is one of 11 states where texting while driving isn’t banned, but introduction of HB 1503 this legislative session proposes to change that. Supporters of a “Texting While Driving” ban rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday.
HB 1503 would make it unlawful for any person to use a cellular telephone or electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion.
Punishment for the violation would be $500, including court costs.
If passed into law, HB 1503 would also allow municipalities to enact ordinances related to texting while driving.
Health and public safety officials are rallying behind the bill to outlaw texting while driving. Wednesday, a group of supporters lobbied in favor of the bill at the state Capitol. The bill was introduced by Democratic Rep. Curtis McDaniel of Smithville.
Chuck Mai, a spokesman for AAA Oklahoma, cited statistics from the National Safety Council that show at least 24 percent of crashes involve drivers talking and texting on cell phones.
“AAA is behind this measure for one reason and one reason only: Our members are scared to death of texting drivers,” Mai said.
Oklahoma drivers can be cited for inattentive driving, but cannot be stopped or ticketed simply for a using a cell phone, even if an officer witnesses them texting while driving, said Kerry Pettingill, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
The bill was passed 12-2 last week by the House Transportation Committee, with Rep. Josh Cockroft from Tecumseh casting one of the nay votes. Cockroft, who said McDaniel has done an outstanding job at this issue, addressed his nay vote.
“It was the language I had some qualms with,” Cockroft said, adding the bill reads that a law enforcement officer can pull over a driver “over the belief that you had been sending or writing texts.”
While Cockroft said he does believe it is “extremely dangerous and foolish” for people to text while driving, he questions the enforceability of such a law and believes the wording in the bill leaves it too “wide open for interpretation,” he said.
Cockroft said the state already has distracted driving laws on the books that could be better enforced or have increased penalties.
Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz said there were initially several texting and driving bills at the start of the session, although he wasn’t sure which versions were surviving the process.
Frantz said he doesn’t mind officers talking on phones while they patrol, but doesn’t want them texting as they are moving. He gives the same advice to motorists.
Page 2 of 2 - “If people want to text they should pull over and stop,” the chief said.
If approved by the House Calendar Committee, HB 1503 could be heard on the House floor.
Watch for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.