OUR OPINION: Legislators have failed us again

THE ISSUE: Texting while driving

OUR OPINION: Legislators have failed us again

It’s hard to imagine why some lawmakers can’t understand how dangerous it is for motorists to be texting while driving.

However, recently, a House committee shelved a bill which would have banned it.

Technically, the bill is not dead, but the House Calendar Committee tabled it. While the bill’s author, Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, hopes to rally the troops and convince the 15 members to bring it back it up, there’s probably little hope of that occurring

Among those on the committee whose vote help derail it was State Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh.

According to an Associated Press account, Cockroft, a member of the Calendar Committee, cited these reasons for his opposition to the bill.

He said House Speaker T.SW. Shannon’s opposition over concerns about the government’s encroachment on an individual’s personal freedom were among the reasons he voted to table the measure.

Yet, he was quoted in the story saying “I'll be the first to say it's dangerous and foolish to text while driving. But where do you stop? Can I not eat a cheeseburger in my car?"

There’s a considerable difference between eating a cheeseburger in one’s car and texting while driving. Texting requires a certain amount of concentration and focusing and eating a burger really doesn’t.

What texting and driving really boils down to is a public safety issue.

According to the AP story, Oklahoma Highway Patrol chief Kerry Pettingill said Oklahoma drivers can be cited for distracted driving, but only as a secondary offense, which means an officer would have to witness them breaking a traffic law, such as following too closely or changing lanes improperly.

A driver cannot be stopped or ticketed simply for using a cellphone, even if an officer witnessed them texting while driving.

Cockroft should do what is right here, and take the lead in trying to convince other members of the committee to reconsider this legislation. If he voted against it based primarily on his support for the House Speaker, then why doesn’t he go to Speaker Shannon and tell him this bill really does need to be revived.

Some kind of legislation is needed to House Bill 2276 signed into law several years ago by then Gov. Brad Henry. That bill requires law enforcement officers to observe driving that "poses an articulable danger to other drivers."

That was a start, but as Chief Pettingill pointed out officers are only allowed to cite motorists for distracted driving as a secondary offense,

They should be able to issue a citation as a primary offense.

Motorists might be less likely to text and drive if they knew the threat of receiving a citation for it could be handed out and it could get in their pocketbooks.

Not only is this a safety issue, it could mean the difference between life and death.