OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The mother of a teenager killed in a traffic accident while using a cell phone delivered a tearful plea to legislators Wednesday to approve a bill that would ban texting while driving in Oklahoma.
Gina Harris, whose 19-year-old daughter Brittanie Montgomery was killed in a crash in Oklahoma City in 2006, was among a group of health and safety officials, legislators, teenagers and insurance industry officials who rallied at the Capitol and urged lawmakers to approve the texting ban as a step toward making Oklahoma's roadways safer.
"She chose to pick up her phone," Harris said. "Within a two-second time span she lost control of her vehicle and hopped all the way across four lanes of traffic and was hit in her driver's door. She did not survive the impact."
A bill that would make it illegal for any driver to "compose, send, or read a text-based communication" while driving passed last week through the House Transportation Committee and, if approved by the House Calendar Committee, could be heard on the House floor as early as next week. The bill calls for a fine of up to $500 for violations.
Oklahoma drivers can be cited for inattentive driving, but cannot be stopped or ticketed simply for a using a cell phone, even if an officer witnesses them texting while driving, said Kerry Pettingill, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
"If we see them crash, then we can stop them," Pettingill said.
The Oklahoma Legislature three years ago approved a measure that would allow teens with a learner's permit or intermediate driver's license to have their license suspended or revoked from using cell phones while driving, except in emergency situations, but more far-reaching proposals have faced resistance.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, said he questions whether a ban on texting actually would make the roads any safer, suggesting drivers simply would try to hide the fact that they were using their phones.
"I don't think this is going to do anything," said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City. "Saying something is illegal is not going to change the behavior of an individual."
Shortey said he's also opposed to the idea that law enforcement officers would have to gain access to a driver's telephone in order to prove that they were using it.
"They're going to have to look at your personal private property to do that," Shortey said. "It's a complete infringement on personal private property rights."
Chuck Mai, a spokesman for AAA Oklahoma, cited statistics from the National Safety Council that show at least 24 percent of crashes involve drivers talking and texting on cell phones.
"AAA is behind this measure for one reason and one reason only: Our members are scared to death of texting drivers," Mai said.
House Bill 1503: http://bit.ly/WNtnni
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy