OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma House committee approved legislation Wednesday that would prohibit texting, emailing and instant messaging while driving a vehicle over the objections of opponents who said the measure would be difficult to enforce.
The House Public Safety Committee voted 8-4 for the measure and sent it to the full House for a vote. It is among at least eight bills pending in the House and Senate that would restrict texting while driving, including two measures approved by a Senate panel last week.
The House bill would prohibit drivers from “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters” into a cellphone or other electronic device as well as sending or reading texts, emails or instant messages. The measure would not apply to texts sent from stationary vehicles or emergency communications with law enforcement authorities.
The bill’s author, Rep. Terry O’Donnell R-Tulsa, said the measure would help reduce the number of accidents caused by inattentive driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2012 alone, 3,328 people were killed nationally in distracted driving crashes.
O’Donnell said a driver is 23 times more likely to have an accident while texting.
“We need legislation to address that,” O’Donnell said. He said 41 other states have passed similar laws.
But opponents argued that the measure is unnecessary because inattentive driving is already illegal in the state. Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, said the bill goes too far and resembles the rules of “a Nazi state.”
“Are you aware that we might be overstepping it?” Ritze asked O’Donnell.
“We’re teaching people about how to think about their conduct,” O’Donnell said. “That is something you are consciously choosing to do.”
Ritze and other committee members said law enforcement authorities may find it difficult to enforce a ban on testing while driving.
“There are certainly enforcement challenges with this measure,” O’Donnell said.
The measure makes texting while driving a secondary traffic violation, meaning that a driver could be cited only after being pulled over for a more serious infraction, such as reckless driving.
“We’re not going to be pulling drivers over on suspicion of texting,” O’Donnell said. Violations would be punishable by a $500 fine.
On Feb. 20, the Senate Public Safety Committee passed two bills that would restrict the ability of motorists to use a cellphone while driving.
The first would make it illegal for any motorist to use a wireless communications device while driving in a school zone, unless drivers are using hands-free devices or making an emergency call. The second would prohibit composing or reading a text while driving.