Morgan unveils legislation to ban texting while driving
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Published: 20-Jan-2011
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 20-Jan-2011

Under legislation unveiled this week by state Rep. Danny Morgan, drivers could face hefty fines and teen drivers could lose their driving privileges if caught texting while driving.

Morgan discussed his legislation at a 2 p.m. press conference held Wednesday (January 19) at the state Capitol’s Blue Room.

“My legislation is the culmination of many legislators throughout the country who have recognized the importance of prohibiting this dangerous practice,” said Morgan, a Democrat from Prague. “There is a growing coalition of support for this legislation and I believe that we will see it pass this session.”

Morgan’s measure, House Bill 1316, will make it a criminal violation for all persons aged 18 and under to use a cell phone while driving (except emergencies), prohibits all drivers, regardless of age, from texting while driving, and prohibits all drivers from using a cell phone while driving in an area designated as a school crossing zone.

All violations will be a primary offense. Morgan explained that in current law, cell phone usage may in some circumstances be a secondary offense falling under the category of distracted driving.

Showing support for Morgan’s new legislation was Chuck Mai of AAA Oklahoma, Pam Archer with the Oklahoma Department of Health, Lt. George Brown with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Kelly Warrior with the Oklahoma Safety Council, Mark Williams with AT&T

(http://www.capitolbeatok.com/_webapp_3646996/Drive_to_curb_texting_while_driving_begins_in_Oklahoma), Kim Decker of Farmers Insurance, Kevin Behrens with the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, Jerry Walters with the Jerry Walters Driving School, and student advocate Hannah Froh.

State Representatives Paul Roan of Tishomingo, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, and Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, all Democrats, also attended in support and are co-authors of the legislation.

Unable to attend but serving as the principal co-author with Morgan on House Bill 1316 is Representative Sue Tibbs, a Republican from Tulsa. While fielding questions from both reporters and critics of the proposal in the Blue Room of the Capitol, Morgan expressed his appreciation to Tibbs, who has joined him in previous road safety legislation.

Also in attendance to support Morgan’s measure was the victim of an accident caused by texting, and the mother of a girl who died due to the use of a cell phone while driving.

Robert Craig was the victim of a texting driver who hit him while he was riding his motorcycle in South Oklahoma City. If not for a medical professional who stopped to help Craig after he was hit, he would not have survived. After seven surgeries and months of physical therapy, he can walk, but only for 400 feet at a time. In a comment sent to CapitolBeatOK, Craid said: “I just want them to try and put a stop to it before someone else dies. There are more deaths from cell phones than from drunk driving.”

Gina Harris’s 19-year-old daughter, Brittanie Montgomery, died in a traffic accident while using her cell phone. “I think this legislation is a great start; it’s been a long time coming,” Gina Harris said. “I am confident that we will see this passed.”

Morgan said his legislation will include language to ban the use of a cell phone in a construction zone.

“Speeding penalties double in school and construction zones because of increased danger,” Morgan said. “It only makes sense to restrict any use of a cell phone while driving through them.”

Morgan said that driving is a responsibility, and distinguished such privileges from fundamental rights.

“Our licenses can be taken away for a variety of reasons, but what our laws boil down to is that driving is a privilege that you earn,” Morgan said. “For that same reason, there are penalties when you do not take that responsibility seriously enough.”

Responding to issues raised in a CapitolBeatOK story about the “unintended consequences” of texting bans found in studies conducted in other states, Morgan said that data collection has likely been inconsistent over the course of such studies, in part due to changes in what questions responding officers ask after automobile accidents.

Rep. Morgan and other attendees at Wednesday’s press conference stressed that other studies have documented the effect of “distracted driving,” including cell phone usage and texting.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.

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