March 1, 2013

Local reps, citizens comment on embattled bill that could criminalize texting while driving

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — A bill that would have made texting and driving illegal met with potentially fatal opposition yesterday during a Republican lead committee meeting.

House Bill 1503 allows a fine of up to $500 for people caught using a cellphone while driving to write, send or read text messages, instant messages or emails. Emergency responders, police officers, fire fighters and ambulance drivers are excluded from the bill and cannot be charged.

David Perryman, district 56 state representative said HB 1503 is a good bill that will end up helping adults and teenagers alike.

"We are all guilty of it," he said. "The phone rings, you pick it up, see who is calling and think 'I'll just text them back.'"

The bill would also raise consciousness around the nation, which may lead to similar legislation in other states, said Perryman.

"We've had fatalities from this in Chickasha and across the nation, it's an epidemic," he said.   

The bill could still go to the floor for a vote and Perryman said he thinks it will pass.

"I can't imagine it amassing a huge amount of opposition," he said.

The house floor leader is opposed to the bill according to Perryman who said the floor leader thinks that the bill does too much and over stretches the bounds of government.

Major Elip Moore of the Chickasha Police Department said the bill will help his department combat the dangers of distracted drivers. Moore said distracted drivers count for a fair amount of collisions and any tool that will help stop drivers from being distracted is positive.

Moore said he has yet to read the verbiage of the bill, but thinks the high fine amount may turn some heads.

"It's double the fine for reckless driving," said Moore.

As for youthful offenders, Moore said $500 may be too much for the average teenager and the parents may end up encumbering the bill.

"Most kids have part-time jobs and it would take them awhile to raise that kind of money.

Opinions varied from those that responded to a question about the legislation on The Express-Star's Facebook.

"As a first responder I have witnessed first hand the increase of accidents caused by texting and driving," Adam Brinkman wrote. "Our department alone last year experienced more crashes caused by cell phones than alcohol related crashes."

Susan Wetzal Park said she wouldn't support the legislation unless it extended to police and fire fighters as well.

"This is not a good bill, unless the police and firemen are included in all tickets and fines," she wrote. "You can go up or down the street anytime of the day or night, and see a police officer or fireman talking on a cell phone,and they are not parked, either."

Others said the bill does not go far enough and should address talking and driving too.

"I say good deal," Jody Jaques wrote. "Though I think they should include talking as well, even hands free. Drivers need less distraction."