By Chuck Mai, AAA
Well, the Oklahoma Legislature has done it again. Or rather, I should say they failed to do it again. For the third straight year, Oklahoma legislators managed to not pass a texting while driving ban bill. Forty states have but in Oklahoma, key committee chairs have thwarted our best efforts – despite my belief that the vast majority of legislators would like to see a bill passed that safeguards the lives of everyone on the road. While walking the halls at the state Capitol pushing these texting bills, I heard story-after-story of crashes and near-crashes involving texting drivers.
So, why is this row so hard to plow?
1) The “we already have a law banning reckless driving” argument. It’s true. Oklahoma does have such a law. But reckless driving laws only come into play when the driver is driving erratically or crashes. Traffic safety advocates want law enforcement to have a tool to use which can prevent that crash from happening.
2) The “violation of liberties, freedoms and rights” argument. First of all, driving is not a right. It’s a privilege you must earn and do certain things to keep – like not driving drunk or hitting too many other cars. Plus, the state has a long history of telling us what we can and can’t do behind the wheel. We have to buckle up, we have to stop at stop signs, we can’t go 60 mph through a school zone and the list goes on. Your liberties behind the wheel of your car end when you smack into me.
3) The “but we can’t enforce it” argument. Enforcement of a texting law will present special challenges but the tell-tale bobbing of the head as the driver texts and drives is a dead giveaway. Some texters, especially teenagers, say they are so good at texting, they can do it blindfolded. In these cases, the texting law would be enforced just as DUI laws and mandatory insurance laws are now, at the time the driver is stopped for another offense or in the event of a crash.
AAA supports a texting-while-driving ban in Oklahoma for three reasons: 1) our members tell us they rate text messaging and emailing while driving as a very serious threat to their safety on the road; 2) drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to crash or get into a near-crash situation than drivers who are not texting, according to a 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study; and 3) the state needs to send a clear message to motorists that texting while driving is so dangerous, it’s against the law. Citizens typically look to the law to tell them what to do. If there’s no law against it, they’ll assume it is okay to do.
Frankly, I can’t think of a more dangerous activity one can engage in behind the wheel. Texting drivers take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel and their minds off of what they should be doing: driving.
President Obama signed an order forbidding federal employees from texting behind the wheel, Gov. Fallin has extended the state executive order first instituted by Gov. Henry telling state employees they can’t engage in this dangerous practice while on the job. Interstate truckers are similarly banned from texting while driving. What do all these people know that certain members of the Oklahoma Legislature don’t?
With reports of texting while driving on the rise, it’s clear education and enforcing existing laws aren’t working. But until the Oklahoma Legislature acts, education is all we have. Please help spread the word. That text can wait.