Oklahoma lawmaker targets drivers’ cell phone use

| 8/9/2007

If an Oklahoma state lawmaker gets his way, drivers who cause wrecks while using their cell phones would face fines and mandatory jail time.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, is proposing legislation that would require a mandatory fine of $1,000 and 20 days in jail if cell phone use is determined to be a factor in a wreck. Other penalties could also apply.

Wesselhoft said his bill would not prohibit cell phone use while behind the wheel but will penalize those who cause wrecks because they were distracted while on the road.

Oklahoma Highway Safety Office figures show cell phones were a contributing factor in 802 wrecks in 2006.

He said the need for deterrents to cell phone use while driving is highlighted in a recent wreck in New York. Five teenagers were killed in that head-on wreck. Police know text messages were sent and received on the 17-year-old driver’s cell phone moments before the SUV carrying five young women collided with a tractor-trailer, The Associated Press reported.

Opponents say passage of such a law sought by Wesselhoft could lead to the same penalties for drivers who are distracted when they are eating, changing the radio or other activities that create inattentive driving.

Currently, about 14 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are the only other states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. California and Washington are slated to begin enforcement of their own laws in 2008.

In Oklahoma, the issue can be brought before lawmakers during the session that begins in February 2008.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oklahoma in 2007, click here.