The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 24, 2013

Lawmaker vows to keep pushing for ban on texting while driving

By Mike Baker
Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Eds: Adds quotes and background.

By DAN HOLTMEYER

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma legislator vowed Tuesday to keep pushing for a ban on texting while driving after the House scuttled the proposal for the third time this session.

The latest text ban attempt came in the form of an amendment by Democratic Rep. Curtis McDaniel on a bill that dealt with reckless driving penalties. The amendment didn’t come to an actual vote Tuesday but instead was killed with a 49-37 vote against considering it. Another push to let law enforcement pull over a driver for distracted driving alone died the same way shortly after.

After the vote, McDaniel described the proposals’ failure as “aggravating.”

“Frustrating? No. That word’s not good enough,” the Smithville representative told The Associated Press in his office. “My question is, why?”

The proposal’s failure means for now Oklahoma won’t join the 39 states that prohibit texting and driving in an attempt to address the deadly problem of distracted driving.

Drivers who are texting are 23 times as likely to crash as those who aren’t, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about one in three adult drivers have read or sent texts or emails while driving, and that distracted driving kills nine people and injures 1,000 more each day.

“This thing is six times more dangerous — six times more dangerous — than drinking and driving,” McDaniel said, referring to the jump in risk of an accident while texting.

Earlier in the session, McDaniel had introduced the ban proposal in its own bill, which made reading, composing and sending text messages while driving a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. The bill passed a House committee but was blocked in February by the House Calendar Committee from coming up for a House vote.  

McDaniel then tried adding the ban as an amendment to another bill, which also failed earlier this month. Opponents of the proposal have said the proposal is either redundant with current law or wouldn’t be enforceable.

“If we want to look at stricter penalties for that, then we can,” said Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, who moved to table McDaniel’s amendment Tuesday. “In my discussions with law enforcement across the state and across my district, many of them feel like it would be very, very difficult to enforce.”

Oklahoma Highway State Trooper Betsy Randolph disputed both criticisms. She told the AP officers could only pull over a driver who was swerving because of a distraction or was otherwise demonstrably dangerous.

“But just Joe Blow citizen driving down the road and texting — we may honk our horn or something and tell them to knock it off,” Randolph said. “We can cite a driver for inattention when they’re messing with their phone, but only if they get in a collision.”

A proposal like McDaniel’s would make it easier to cite drivers for texting before then, she added, and finding texting drivers wouldn’t be too difficult.

“We see it every day, people not paying attention,” Randolph said. “That stuff is so dangerous. We cannot emphasize enough just how important it is that you just keep your eyes on the roadway.”    

McDaniel vowed Tuesday he would continue trying to get the proposal passed this session, “and the next session, and the next session.”

“Until they send me home,” he said.