Will this be the year that Oklahoma finally joins the many other states that have outlawed text-messaging while driving? State Rep. Curtis McDaniel hopes so. We do as well.
McDaniel, D-Smithville, is taking up where fellow Democrat Danny Morgan left off. Morgan spent 10 years in the Legislature before stepping aside last year. He spent many of those years trying to outlaw texting behind the wheel.
Morgan had only limited success. Lawmakers eventually agreed to make it illegal for new teen drivers to text and drive, arguing that the least experienced were most at risk. But that proscription expires for most of those new drivers after about six months. So many youngsters are still able to drive and text to their heart's content. And so are all adults, even though texting at the wheel is every bit as dangerous for them — and other motorists — as it is for teens.
Some opponents of outlawing texting and driving note that motorists can already be ticketed for distracted driving, and so it's unnecessary to create a separate statute. Others see this effort as an infringement on personal rights. But it's first and foremost a safety issue: Drivers who text are a danger to themselves and others. The U.S. Department of Transportation says drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who aren't texting. No wonder 39 other states have outlawed the practice.
McDaniel's House Bill 1503 would exempt texts to emergency response operators, medical providers, firefighters and law enforcement. He's recommending a $500 fine. There's plenty of support for this idea, from organizations such as AAA Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Safety Council, the state Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Highway Safety Council.
The Legislature needs to get on board and make it illegal to text and drive.