The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 28, 2013

Okla. texting ban derailed in House committee

By Sean Murphy
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A Republican-controlled House committee derailed a bill Thursday to ban texting while driving in Oklahoma, citing concerns that it would be difficult to enforce and jeopardizes personal freedoms.

One day after supporters of the ban rallied at the Capitol, the House Calendar Committee tabled the bill by Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville.

"It's not dead," McDaniel said. "What we've got to do now is rally the troops and convince those 15 members to bring the bill back up.

"There's a whole lot more people for this than there are against this measure. Maybe not legislator-wise, but you poll the people on the street, you'd get 85 to 90 percent of the people who favor a texting ban."

McDaniel's bill would make it illegal for any driver to "compose, send, or read a text-based communication" while driving, with fines of up to $500 for violations. It passed last week through the House Transportation Committee but needed to clear the Calendar Committee before proceeding to a floor vote.

A texting ban is in place for teenage drivers with a learner's permit or intermediate driver's license, and former Gov. Brad Henry signed an executive order in 2010 barring state workers from text messaging while driving government vehicles.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon said Thursday he was among those who opposed similar bills in the past because of concerns over how it would be enforced.

"I think there is a slippery-slope argument to be made about what people are doing inside their cars, especially as technology changes so quickly," said Shannon, R-Lawton.

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, Oklahoma Highway Patrol chief Kerry Pettingill said. A driver cannot be stopped or ticketed simply for using a cellphone, even if an officer witnessed them texting while driving.

Rep. Josh Cockcroft, a member of the Calendar Committee who opposed the bill, said Shannon's opposition to the bill and concerns over government's encroachment on an individual's personal freedoms were among the reasons he voted to table it.

"I'll be the first to say it's dangerous and foolish to text while driving," said Cockcroft, R-Tecumseh. "But where do you stop? Can I not eat a cheeseburger in my car?"

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Online: House Bill 1503