Oklahoma Senate passes own version of anti-texting bill
Texting and driving is demonstrably one of the most dangerous and potentially deadly forms of distracted driving. The seriousness of the problem lies in the readily available year-on-year statistics: almost one-third of drivers admit to texting while driving, and nationally in 2012 alone more than 3,000 deaths and more than 40,000 injuries were attributable to distracted driving. In Oklahoma an estimated 10 or more fatal accidents involving drivers distracted by electronic devices occur every year.
Yet despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence and the prevailing trend of states to enact laws prohibiting texting while behind the wheel, Oklahoma has remained one of only five states in the country to have no law against engaging in such activity. Five attempts in the past five years have been made to pass laws making such activity illegal, but to date none have been successful in presenting a final bill for the governor’s signature.
Recently we commented on this site about renewed activity this year in the Oklahoma legislature to remove this state from the minority that still allow texting while driving. At that time, the House of Representatives had passed a measure making texting while driving a secondary offense. A secondary offense is one based on which a police officer cannot base a traffic stop, but it is one that can lead to additional charges after the officer has pulled a driver over for a primary offense such as drunk driving or speeding.
At the same time that the House passed its version of the anti-texting legislation by a wide margin (38 in favor, six opposed), the Senate was considering its own bill on the subject. Now the Senate has approved a version of the House bill by a much narrower vote (23 for, 20 against), but has amended it to make texting while driving a primary offense.
The Senate’s amended version of the House bill now returns to the House for further consideration, the most obvious point of contention being the difference between the primary and secondary penalty provisions in the two versions of the proposed legislation. Reconciling this difference may not be an easy task; there are some in the House who oppose making the infraction a primary offense, and others in both the House and Senate who have for a variety of reasons thwarted the passage of any bill at all. One expressed rationale for opposing making texting and driving illegal is that drivers sending or reading texts will only become even more distracted in efforts to conceal that activity, presumably making them even more dangerous.
Given the “Try, try again” track record of the Oklahoma legislature over the past five years to unify on the desire to ban texting while driving and the willingness of the state’s governor to sign such legislation if it ever reaches her desk, even if this year’s attempt fails to produce a final bill it seems likely that efforts to ban that activity will continue, and that eventually those efforts will be successful.
Although drinking and driving stills remains a serious concern, it is arguably that texting while driving is as serious as a problem if not more of a problem. I have successfully defended drivers charged with Oklahoma DUI charges using the defense that they were actually texting at the time they drifted off the highway striking an unoccupied car left on the shoulder. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper mistakenly assumed that my client was under the influence of alcohol simply because he detected an odor of alcoholic beverage upon his breath.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence or any other criminal charge, contact the skilled Oklahoma Criminal attorneys at the Hunsucker Legal Group at 405-231-5600 to schedule a free consultation.