Oklahoma lawmakers are aiming to make driving safer by advancing bills that target texting while driving, using cell phones in school zones and back seat seatbelt use.
The Oklahoma Senate Public Safety Committee approved legislative measures that would ban texting while driving, as well as the use of cell phones while driving in school zones.
Senate Bill 442, by Sen. Ron Sharp, would make it unlawful to compose, send or read a text message while driving.
Senate Bill 1601 makes it illegal for anyone operating a motor vehicle to use a wireless communications device in a school zone. The bill does not apply to cars that are stopped, drivers who are using hands free devices or specifically-listed emergency calls.
Under SB 442, which was carried over from last session, anyone convicted of violating the law would be punished by a fine not to exceed $500, including court costs. The bill was amended in committee and the fine, including court costs, was lowered to no more than $30 for first offenses and $50 for second and subsequent offenses.
The bill provides exemptions for law enforcement and safety personnel; drivers of authorized emergency vehicles; someone operating an amateur radio or who holds a current, valid amateur radio station license issued by the FCC; or those who use a cell phone solely to contact an emergency response operator, a hospital, physician’s office, health clinic, a provider of ambulance or firefighting services, or a law enforcement agency in emergency situations.
Drivers who violate the provisions of SB 1601, the school zone cell phone bill, would face fines up to $250 per offense. However, if the violation results in an accident, the fine may be raised to not more than $500.
This bipartisan effort is based on similar laws in Arkansas and Texas.
According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office there were more than 11,000 crashes in 2012 caused by distracted drivers.
In the Oklahoma House, the Public Safety Committee approved legislation that would require passengers in the back seat of vehicles to wear seatbelts.
The committee voted 7-5 for the measure on Feb. 19 and sent it to the full House for a vote.
The bill would expand existing requirements that the operators of vehicles and their front seat passengers be restrained by seat belts to include all passengers, including those in the back seat.
The measure’s author, Democratic Rep. Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, says state law already requires that children 13 and under wear seat belts or ride in a specially made safety seat regardless of where they are seated in a vehicle. McDaniel says 29 other states have similar requirements for adult passengers.