Failure to pay attention to your surroundings while driving can be fatal.
Just three years ago, over 3,000 people were killed in car accidents as a result of distracted driving, according to the official U.S. government website for distracted driving. The motor club and leisure travel organization AAA reported that in 2011, more than 3,300 people were killed, and 387,000 were injured in crashes that involved a distracted driver.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is spearheading an effort to stop people from being able to text or use their cell phones when driving. Currently, commercial drivers have been banned from texting and cell phone use, and states have been encouraged to adopt laws regulating attentive driving.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and organizations like the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Safety Council, the National Transportation Safety Board and AAA are encouraging drivers to learn more about the dangers of the cognitive distraction to the brain as a result of cell phone use, eating, putting on makeup, changing the radio station and even talking to children in the back seat while driving.
“As an advocate for the safety of the driving public, AAA urges motorists to voluntarily stop this dangerous and often deadly behavior,” said AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai.
Though there is growing support for the ban on texting while driving, two House bills – House Bill 1503 and HB 1105 – are not being heard as a result of floor-time derailment by the Republican-controlled Calendar Committee.
HB 1503, by State Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, would have made it illegal to use a cell phone or electronic communication device to compose, send or read a text while the car is in motion.
HB 1105, by State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, would have made it illegal to use a cell phone or electronic communication device to talk, write, send, or read a text while in a school zone, construction zone or within 500 feet of an intersection, unless the electronic communication device was used with a hands-free device. Punishments for violators of HB 1503 would have been a $500 fine, including court costs, while the consequences for violating HB 1105 could have included a $500 fine, county jail imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both measures.
More and more, people are jumping on the bandwagon to banning use of cell phones or talking devices while driving, but some lawmakers are not ready to listen. People advocating for personal rights are also contributing to the delay in floor time for either house bill, said Brown.
“They feel like use of a cell phone inside their vehicle is an individual right,” he said. “Well, it’s my right to have a safe road to drive on.”
According to AAA Oklahoma, more than nine in 10 AAA members support a statewide ban on texting for all drivers, while nearly three out of four members support a ban on the use of hand-held and hands-free cell phones while driving, except in an emergency situation.
There are currently 11 states without a ban on texting while driving, including Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida and Hawaii. Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, South Dakota, Missouri and Mississippi, however, do have partial bans on cell phone use, restricting learners’ permit holders, intermediate license holders, and school bus and public transit drivers. In Missouri, it’s illegal for drivers 21 and younger to text while driving.
“I have personally have been run off the road and have been bumped at an intersection [because of someone texting while driving]. Or I’ve had to wait at an intersection because of a person texting,” said Brown. “Texting and talking are two different things. Texting takes your eyes away from the road 100 percent, and you lose full attention. School zones, construction zones and intersections are three places, I think, where full your attention is needed.”
Brown noted access to free phone apps to help curb the habit of texting or hand-held device use.
“Right now, I believe through AT&T, you can download an app that will send a text message to the person who’s texting you that will say ‘this person is driving,’” he said. “Our technology will catch up with us, but getting a mandate in place is another thing.”
According to Mashable.com, five apps will either control the message or disable the function while driving.
DriveOff is an Android app made available by the car insurance company Esure. This app detects when drivers are traveling at more than 10 mph and shuts off other distracting apps while temporarily halting incoming calls and text messages.
The AT&T app called DriveMode automatically activates itself when the car is detected moving more than 25 mph and sends a written response, which says the person is driving and will make contact soon, to incoming texts and emails while calls are forwarded to voicemail.
TextBuster is a hardware device that can be installed into the car of the person needing cell phone or hand-held device restriction. The phone can still make and receive calls, but texting, e-mail and Internet access are disabled while the car is in motion.
Respondents to the Daily Press’ Facebook question about support for a texting and/or use of cell phone ban produced mixed results. Most people were in support of banning texting and talking while driving, but several respondents said they believe the law would take away another individual rights and not increase safety on the roads.
John Morgan said he supports the ban and noted seeing law officials staring at their phones behind the wheels of their cruisers.
“I agree with the ban of texting and driving, and I have also witnessed police officers texting while driving,” he said.
Donna Jones agrees that texting while driving is a problem.
“I can tell [when] someone is texting in heart beat. They are all over the road, and I am sick of it,” she said. “I want it stopped.”
Darlene Ralls supports a ban on texting while driving, but doesn’t support a ban on the use of cell phones while driving.
“A lot of us work and drive and have to talk to clients, but that’s where [the Apple iOS app] Siri comes in,” she said. “[You just say] call so and so, and you don’t have to look through your phone book to call.”
Keith Moore doesn’t support a ban on texting or use of a cell phone while driving.
“We[’ve] got enough laws already,” he said. “We’re losing our freedom one law at a time.”
Jon Edwards can’t text or talk while riding his motorcycle and supports a ban on all use of a phone while driving.
“As a motorcycle driver, I say ban for sure. Ban everything to do with a phone in a car,” he said.
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