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Put down the smartphone and drive



It seems everyone has a story of a near-crash or of a texting driver who nearly ran him or her off the road or of somebody who knows somebody who was in a wreck caused by a driver on the phone. And if you don’t know have such a story, it’s only a matter of time.

Texting and driving has reached epidemic proportions. Ask any traffic cop.

They see it all the time. And although I am kind of a “get government off our backs” sort of guy, the time has come for the Oklahoma Legislature to ban this high-risk behavior.

Consider that:

—more than 3,330 people nationwide were killed in distraction-related crashes in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;
—you’re 23 times more likely to get into a crash if you’re texting (Virginia Tech);
—taking your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds doubles your crash risk;
—just talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk (University of Utah); and
—traffic deaths specifically attributed to cell phone use declined 47 percent in the two years after California banned the use of handheld cell phones in 2008 (University of California).

Yes, Oklahoma has an inattentive driving law, but guess what. It’s secondary enforcement, which means officers have to see you drive erratically, get into a crash or pull you over for something else before the citation can be issued. A statewide law making it illegal to text while driving will prevent the erratic driving and/or crash from happening in the first place. Lives will be saved.

It’s hard to think of a more dangerous activity one can engage in behind the wheel than texting. Texting drivers take their hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road and their minds off of driving.

At the same time, driving has never been more risky than it is today with more drivers than ever, more cars on the road and more complicated driving maneuvers (such as high-speed merging).

And it’s not just texting. It’s also composing, sending and reading emails.

A bill currently in the Legislature, House Bill 1503, would ban texting by all drivers in Oklahoma. It’s one of the shorter bills facing legislators this session. It bans texting behind the wheel, except in emergencies, and sets the fine at no more than $500.

That’s it. Simple yet lifesaving. If you agree with AAA on the need for this measure, let your state lawmakers know. To find who your representatives and senators are and how to contact them, go to Time is of the essence; your help is needed now.

Mai is vice president of public affairs for AAA Oklahoma.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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