Texting and Driving

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Texting and Driving reaches epidemic proportions

AAA says laws, enforcement could save lives on Oklahoma roads.

By Heide Brandes

According to AAA, a driver is four times as likely to be in an accident while under the influence of alcohol.

Drivers who are texting while driving are 23 times as likely to be in an accident – that’s nearly six times higher than drunk drivers. However, despite the studies and statistics, Oklahoma remains one of only nine states that does not have a law against texting and driving.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, Oklahoma’s laws concerning driving and use of cell phones or other devices only pertains to those with a learner’s permit. Those with a learner permit are banned from using hand-held cell phones or texting while driving.

The rest of the drivers fall under the “distracted driving” law, which is too vague, according to Chuck Mai, AAA public affairs.

“Distracted driving as a whole is a huge problem, whether that be messing with the kids in the backseat, fiddling with your iPod or texting,” Mai said. “We have always worked to diminish all levels of distracted driving, but driving has never been as complicated as it is today.”

Though any kind of distraction while driving is a problem, texting is a “triple whammy.”

“When you text and drive, you take your hand off the wheel, your eyes off the road and your attention away from driving,” Mai said. “It’s a domino effect, and it not only affects your life, but the lives of everyone else on the road.”

What Oklahoma needs, he said, is a law that specifically targets texting while driving – it’s a law that Oklahoma has failed to pass despite four years of attempts.

DANGEROUS HABITS

Using technology while driving has reached epidemic levels, and not just with texting. Drivers are increasingly checking their email, sending email, logging onto social media sites and more while operating vehicles. The statistics prove this level of distraction is creating danger on the roadway.

“In 2012, 11,174 drivers were involved in crashes where inattention was a factor,” Mai said. “Of course, that includes all kinds of inattention, but texting while driving is at epidemic levels.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that teenagers may be the easy suspects, but they aren’t. In fact, teens text and drive less than adults in the 25 to 49 age range.

“That’s encouraging because teens are not experienced behind the wheel yet, and we’re glad to see that they aren’t texting as much,” Mai said. “But it’s a disturbing trend with adults who don’t seem to see the risks of checking their social media sites or texting. You’re taking a chance every time, not only with your life, but the lives of others.”

Stories of drivers killed due to distracted driving are many. In 2011, Lillian Propes, 16, a junior at Tatum High School, died in Rusk County after she got a text message from a new friend. She was either checking the text or responding, the Department of Public Safety said, when she lost control of her truck, hit a tree and was thrown from the truck. She died at the scene.

Young adults may agree about the dangers of texting and driving, yet many claim they are better than others at doing so.

More than three-quarters of college student drivers have texted while driving, despite the fact that the majority of them said they recognize the act is dangerous, according to a new study from King’s College in Pennsylvania. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured every day in the United States in crashes linked to distracted driving.

LEGISLATIVE ROADBLOCKS

Mai said having a law specifically against texting and driving would reduce such activity, much like drunk driving laws do. However, despite numerous attempts to pass such legislation, Oklahoma remains one of only nine states without a law.

In March 2013, he House of Representatives Calendar Committee voted to table an anti-texting and driving bill. In a NewsOK article, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who has voted against similar legislation in the past, said he didn’t support the bill, 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.

“I haven’t been a big fan of it,” said Shannon, R-Lawton, is reported as saying.
“Leadership in the House is of the opinion that this is not a problem. They don’t want to infringe upon drivers’ rights with more laws and they feel it’s not enforceable,” said Mai. “Yet when I walk the halls of the Capitol as I have for the last four years, everyone has a story and everyone supports it.”

Mai said the law could be enforced the same way DUI laws are.

“How do we enforce DUI laws now? If I’m under the influence, unless I drive erratic or get into an accident, law enforcement may never know,” he said. “Does that mean we should do away with that law? No. Plus, you can usually tell when someone is texting and driving. The driving is erratic and you see that head bob going on.”

In addition, Mai said driving is a privilege and a right. Just as drivers must obey traffic signals and speed limits, they should obey safety measures as well to protect other drivers.

“The vast majority of people I talk to agree that we need a law,” said Mai. “We need everyone to contact their legislators and the House leadership. Okies are law-abiding citizens. If there is a law against texting and driving, they will obey it.”
If not, Mai said, the legislature is just sending a message to motorists that it’s okay to text and drive and more lives will be lost.

“This is a life-saving measure. We need to support it,” he said.

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