A bill that would ban texting while driving in Oklahoma has run into a ditch.
The House of Representatives Calendar Committee, which has the authority to determine which measures are to be heard by the full House, voted Thursday to table House Bill 1503.
The committee, which was established by the Republican-led House of Representatives, can vote again on whether to allow the measure, which has bipartisan support, to advance to the House.
The deadline for measures originating in the House to be heard, voted on and passed onto the Senate is March 14.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who has voted against similar legislation in the past, said he doesn't support HB 1503, which would allow a fine of as much as $500 for motorists caught using a cellphone to write, send or read a text message, instant message or email while driving. The measure includes exceptions for emergency response operators, medical officials, ambulance drivers, firefighters and law enforcement officials.
“I haven't been a big fan of it,” said Shannon, R-Lawton.
He said the bill would take away individual rights and that law enforcement officers already can pull over motorists on a reckless driving complaint who appear to be distracted from driving.
“There is a slippery slope argument to be made what people are doing inside their cars, especially as technology changes so quickly,” he said. “Texting is one thing. What about reading the newspaper on your phone? …. What about changing the music on your iPod?
“It's already against the law to drive while distracted,” Shannon said. “You're breaking the law if an officer catches you driving and being distracted, whether you're reading the newspaper, whether you're putting on makeup, whether you're shaving or whether you're texting. It's against the law already.”
Chuck Mai, with Oklahoma AAA, said the reckless driving and inattentive driving laws are secondary enforcement laws.
“A texting ban would avoid the crash, would avoid the erratic driving,” he said. “It's preventive medicine.”
A 2010 law aimed mostly at young motorists prohibits those driving with a learner's permit or a graduated driver's license from using hand-held electronic devices.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he hopes HB 1503 can wiggle free of the Calendar Committee's grasp and get a hearing in the full House.
“While many in the Republican majority will argue that it's protecting citizens' rights, we believe the vast majority of citizens, whether they be 16-year-old new drivers or 70-year-old experienced drivers, overwhelmingly support banning texting while driving,” he said. “The right that we're trying to protect is the right to life — the right to drive down the street and not be rear-ended and have your life in danger because someone was not looking at the road and was instead sending a text message to their friend or neighbor.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said motorists who text while driving pose genuine safety concerns.
“It will get the appropriate consideration if it gets over here,” he said.