A measure making it illegal to text and drive is now one step closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 821, authored by the Senate Public Safety Committee, would make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a hand-held electronic device to compose, send or read electronic messages while driving. The measure received overwhelming approval, with members voting 42 to 3 in favor of the legislation.
Under the provisions of SB 821, the law would be enforced as a secondary offense, meaning an individual would have to be detained for another suspected violation of another traffic law in able to be cited for texted and driving. Those convicted of breaking the law could be fined up to $100 per violation. The law wouldn’t apply if the person was using their cell phone to contact law enforcement, an emergency operator, firefighters or other emergency responders.
Sen. Brian Crain presented the measure on the floor Wednesday. Crain acknowledged the fact that the bill could have been stronger, but said it was an important first step in addressing the problem of texting while driving.
“This bill is an extremely cautious bill. This bill is an extremely basic bill,” said Crain, R-Tulsa. “Is this a perfect bill? I don’t think we’ve ever seen a perfect bill out here. But is this a great initial step to figure out what, if anything, we need to do to change this in the future? Absolutely.”
Sen. Ron Sharp was among a handful of members who introduced legislation addressing texting while driving this session. He debated in favor of the bill, pointing to polling that showed the majority of Oklahoma supported an anti-texting while driving law.
“This is not supposed to be our opinions on this legislation,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “If 73 to 76 percent of the people of Oklahoma say that they want an anti-texting law, we should respond to that opinion.”
Sen. Jack Fry told members he’d seen the danger of texting while driving first hand during his 26 years as a firefighter.
“I’ve run on six fatalities for texting. I’ve run on one fatality for DUI,” said Fry, R-Midwest City. “This is a very serious problem.”
Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to make the bill enforceable as a primary offense, but still urged the bill’s passage. He noted there had been several fatalities within the last year as a result of texting while driving, including the recent death of a state trooper. That same accident left another trooper critically injured. Yen told fellow members it was a matter of life and death.
“We need to pass something so that I can tell my kids, my five kids, that it’s against the law to text and drive,” Yen said.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.