Oklahoma bill to restrict drivers’ cell phone use dies

| 3/5/2008

A bill in the Oklahoma House has died that sought to require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones. Truck drivers would have been exempted in certain instances.

Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Gilbert, D-Tulsa, the bill – HB2213 – remained in the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee at the deadline to advance to the House floor, effectively killing it for the year.

Drivers would have been mandated to put down their hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still have been permitted.

It would have been a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would have faced fines up to $10,000 and/or one year in jail.

Emergency calls would have been exempted. Exceptions also would have been made for commercial driver’s license holders using the devices “within the scope of their employment.”

Supporters of limiting driver distractions point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency contends that “distractions,” such as cell phones, contribute to as many as 30 percent of all traffic wrecks.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

Others say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In July, California and Washington are slated to implement their own rules on cell phones.

Only New Jersey and Washington have included in their bans “texting” while driving.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor