Tahlequah Daily Press

April 29, 2013

Anti-texting bill still needs look


Staff

TAHLEQUAH — A bill that would have banned texting while driving was shot down for the third and presumably final time this legislative session, and we can’t say we’re surprised.

Democratic Rep. Curtis McDaniel had introduced an amendment to a bill focusing on reckless driving penalties. It didn’t even make it to the floor for a vote, nor did another measure that would have allowed officers to pull over someone whose driving appears distracted. It would seem the legislators would prefer penalizing drivers who are texting or otherwise distracted after someone has already died on the highway – in other words, when it’s too late to matter.

McDaniel admitted his frustration to reporters, and rhetorically asked, “Why?”

The answer seems simple: Legislators were feeling pressure from the more libertarian arm of Oklahoma’s population, which considers any new regulation or law as impinging on their freedoms.

In a way, that feeling is understandable. There are far too many ridiculous laws on the books. And when laws are merely aimed at stripping away personal liberties, they make little sense in today’s environment. But when a law is designed to prevent people from engaging in dangerous activities that could harm others besides themselves, it’s clearly worth serious consideration.

Look at the statistics. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to have a vehicular accident than those who have both hands on the wheel and are paying attention to the business at hand.

Distracted driving itself kills nine people and results in injuries to more than 1,000 every day.

Some legislators felt the law would be difficult to enforce. Others objected to the notion that an officer could pull over a driver for simply appearing to be distracted while driving. But does it make more sense for the officer to wait until an accident occurs to try to determine if distraction were a factor, and then issue a citation?

Many troopers with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol have said they’d like to see such a law on the books. They know better than anyone how prevalent this hazardous behavior is, and they’ve worked the grisly accident scenes. True, some officers might go overboard, but most of them have better things to do than hassle a driver who swerves slightly, once or twice.

There’s another reason many people hesitate to support a ban on texting while driving: They’ve seen officers do it themselves.

Frankly, there’s no excuse for this, since officers should be setting examples for other citizens, on the road as well as

elsewhere.

A complete ban on cell phone use in the car might not be workable, but a ban on texting makes more sense. Not only will it save lives, but it should go a long way toward lowering insurance rates. For that reason alone, legislators who attempt to push through a bill next session will have plenty of support at home.