Heather Yazdanipour has seen the surge of cellphone use by drivers in heavy traffic during the past decade.
Yazdanipour, a paramedic with Emergency Medical Services Authority, said her crew swerves and brakes on a daily basis to avoid distracted drivers who are texting or reading texts on their phones.
From the back of the ambulance, while rushing with a patient to a hospital, she often hears the driver yell, “Quick stop!” as another texting driver has swerved into their lane.
En route to one call, a distracted driver sideswiped the ambulance, Yazdanipour said.
And at many wrecks, the evidence shows texting contributed to the cause, she said.
“It's the biggest thing we are dealing with today, drivers who are texting or reading apps on their iPhone,” Yazdanipour said.
Texting while driving should be banned, she said.
“I do think there needs to be something done to deter people from doing it,” Yazdanipour said. “I can sit at a stoplight in traffic and it seems every other driver has a cellphone.”
Dallas Hutchinson was 23 when he died in July 2010 while texting and driving near Cushing.
His mother, Cheryl Nichols, of Tahlequah, wants texting while driving banned in Oklahoma. She is not alone.
However, a bill that would ban texting while driving will not be taken up by the House this year after the measure was tabled Tuesday for the second time in two weeks.
Drivers are 23 times more likely to crash when texting while driving, said Chuck Mai, AAA Oklahoma spokesman. That's because a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for an average 4.6 seconds while texting.
“That's not very long but if you count up to five Mississippis, it's enough time to die,” Mai said.
Support for a law banning texting while driving is gaining support, he said.
Dave Koeneke, executive director of Oklahoma Safety Council and Drive Aware Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, said texting while driving is one of the biggest dangers on the roads these days.
“I think texting is the most obvious and prevalent element of distractive driving out there today, and it is being done by more and more people,” Koeneke said. “It's scary.”
Koeneke said he will continue fighting for a law that would ban texting while driving in Oklahoma.
“We'll pursue it every year if it doesn't make it,” Koeneke said.
Data kept at the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office tracks how many wrecks involve a driver being distracted by an electronic device in the vehicle.
The information doesn't specify how many wrecks are caused by texting, but Alice Collingsworth, spokeswoman for the office, said people are much more concerned about drivers who are texting these days.
“Texting and driving is extremely dangerous from our viewpoint,” Collingsworth said. “It's always heartbreaking to hear of tragedies when someone loses a loved one, and it seems like there are more and more stories of crashes, not just in Oklahoma but around the nation, every week.”
Oklahoma City police Capt. Dee Patty, who investigates crashes, agrees texting while driving is dangerous, but said officers would have a hard time enforcing a texting ban.
“It's hard to prove on our end unless you have a witness who sees someone do it,” Patty said.
She said police officers already have a hard time enforcing a law that covers failure to devote full-time attention to driving.
“Even talking on the phone divides your attention. You can see it on the roads. More and more people are doing it,” Patty said.