While it appears bills proposing a ban on texting while driving won’t be debated this legislative session, supporters of the issue aren’t giving up hope for the issue to get back on the road once again.
Oklahoma is one of 11 states where texting while driving isn’t banned. The introduction of HB 1503 this session proposed making it unlawful for people to use a cell phone to text while driving, but a House committee shelved the bill.
Despite what’s happened, many hope the recent action isn’t a permanent detour for the larger safety issue at hand.
“We’ve never had as much support for a bill to ban texting by drivers in Oklahoma as we do today,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “It seems wherever I bring up the topic, everybody has a story of a near-crash or an incident.”
Mai said despite the support and the fact that texting behind the wheel is at epidemic proportions, it appears leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature are reluctant for the full House or Senate too debate the issue because of enforceability concerns.
“But we will continue to keep pushing because so many of our AAA members want an anti-texting law,” he said, with the last survey indicating that 94 percent polled felt that texting drivers are a serious threat.
“Drivers face many distractions behind the wheel but nothing rises to the level of risk posed by texting,” Mai said. “Your eyes are off the road, your hands are off the wheel and your mind is certainly not on driving. Thirty-nine states have passed such laws – it’s time Oklahoma also sends a message to drivers that texting is so dangerous, it’s illegal.”
Chris Thomas, administrator of support services at Shawnee Police Department, said nowadays, everyone has a phone that is virtually a miniature computer.
“Unfortunately, we use it too much while driving a 3,000 to 4,000-pound vehicle with 15 to 18 gallons of flammable liquid in it at 60 to 70 miles per hour,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who spent years as a street cop before working in administration, said some see a texting ban as an infringement on personal liberties.
“I must remind everyone that driving is not a right, but a privilege that can be taken away by the state for a valid reason,” Thomas said. “Law enforcement cannot stop you if they see you texting while driving, or being on the phone while driving — unless you do something wrong. It is not a primary violation. We have to wait until the collision happens and then pick up the pieces.”
Page 2 of 2 - Rep. Curtis McDaniel’s House Bill 1503 passed the House Transportation Committee by a vote of 12-2 but it failed the be approved by the House Calendar Committee for consideration on the floor of the House by the deadline.
Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, is a member of the Calendar Committee that opposed the bill.
While Cockroft has said he believes it is “dangerous and foolish to text while driving,” it was the language in the bill that he had issues with as the wording left enforcement wide open for interpretation.
Cockroft said the state already has distracted driving laws on the books that could be better enforced.
Watch for updates.