CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
Sen. Ron Sharp has filed legislation banning the use of cell phones or other handheld devices to text, email or call while driving. Senate Bill 67 would make it a misdemeanor to use a handheld device while behind the wheel. Violators would face up to a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail, or both.
The measure would enable law enforcement officers to cite drivers for using the devices as a secondary offense.
Sharp, R-Shawnee, said Oklahoma is one of only six states that has no laws on the books addressing texting while driving.
"Using a cell phone to call or text while driving can be just as deadly as drunk driving," Sharp said. "Forty-four states have already taken legislative action to address this deadly situation. It's time for Oklahoma to do the same."
Oklahoma Highway Patrol and AAA cite distracted driving as the leading cause of injury and death on state roads and highways, noting the rate of distracted driving accidents have risen sharply in recent years. Chuck Mai, Vice President of AAA Oklahoma, supports the legislation. Although texting while behind the wheel causes distracted driving, Mai said the current inattentive driving law is inadequate to address the problem.
"Right now, the Legislature is sending a clear message to motorists that texting while driving is okay.
It's not okay - it's high risk and it's taking the lives of Oklahoman's," Mai said. "We need to encourage motorists to limit all distractions, especially texting."
While the legislation would apply to all handheld device use while operating a moving motor vehicle, it would not apply to the use of Bluetooth technology that would allow for hands-free operation to communicate while driving.
"Research shows the majority of Oklahomans are in favor of legislation to ban texting while driving," Sharp said. "The danger is real. We see it every day, on city streets, highways and interstates.
Senate Bill 67 is designed to make people think twice about pulling out their phone to answer a text or make a call while behind the wheel. The risk is just not worth jeopardizing lives."