Supporters of a ban on texting while driving in Oklahoma are renewing their push for more restrictions ahead of the legislative session, and several bills already have been filed to make it illegal.
Highway safety officials, insurance companies and grass-roots groups of teenagers have pushed in recent years to further restrict the use of mobile phones while driving, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has resisted those efforts. Opponents of a ban have said it would be difficult to enforce and that state laws prohibiting distracted driving are adequate.
According to the national Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Oklahoma is one of just six states in the country without a ban on texting while driving. More than a dozen states prohibit cellphone use altogether while driving.
“Using a cellphone to call or text while driving can be just as deadly as drunk driving,” said state Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee. “Forty-four states have already taken legislative action to address this deadly situation. It’s time for Oklahoma to do the same.”
Sharp’s bill would make it a misdemeanor to use a handheld device while driving punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A separate bill would only allow for a penalty of up to $20.
Gov. Mary Fallin has not ruled out supporting a ban on texting while driving, her spokesman Alex Weintz said. Fallin has previously said texting while driving is irresponsible and has issued an executive order banning the practice for state employees, Weintz added.
Law enforcement and travel and insurance companies have been among the most vocal supporters of a ban.
In a letter to AAA Oklahoma’s 376,000 members published in the January/February issue of its official magazine, the travel company’s President and CEO Neal Krueger encouraged them to contact their legislators about supporting a ban.
“Don’t let legislators tell you a texting ban can’t be enforced,” Krueger wrote. “Yes, there will be challenges, just as there are in enforcing our seat belt and DUI laws. But law enforcement officers, from state troopers to city cops, tell us: ‘Pass a law, we’ll enforce it.”‘
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