February 6, 2014

Texting Behind the Wheel

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CAPITOL WATCH
Feb. 6: Texting Behind the Wheel
State Capitol - Jan 2014 - 2

Years of failed legislation have not dimmed Laura Gamino’s hopes that Oklahoma lawmakers will impose a ban on texting while driving.

Gamino walks the halls of the State Capitol regularly to meet with legislators and attend committee meetings in an effort to advocate for bills that would make texting while driving illegal.

Laura Gamino

Laura Gamino” credit=” 

Gamino is the injury prevention coordinator for the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, so pushing such legislation is part of her job. Traffic injuries are the most common reason people are admitted to the hospital, which, along with about 15 other organizations, is part of a coalition, Drive Aware Oklahoma, that advocates for the ban.

Gamino also feels personally motivated because she gets scared when she sees people looking at their phones while driving.

“I don’t want to share the road with people whose eyes are looking down,” Gamino said. “It’s very frightening.”

Oklahoma is among only nine states that haven’t approved a ban on texting while driving. This session, legislators have introduced seven bills that would ban the practice and create fines of up to $500 that apply  to drivers who text while their vehicle is moving.

A similar bill was proposed last year but wasn’t heard on the House floor.

Gamino says she can’t explain why similar bills failed in earlier years. Some legislators view the ban as government intrusion into people’s private lives and feel it is redundant because police officers can already pull people over for distracted driving. One lawmaker asked if the state’s next step would be to ban eating a hamburger while driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when a driver reaches for a phone, dials or texts on a cell phone or other portable device, the risks of having an accident increase threefold. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for 4.6 seconds, which means a vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour would cover the length of a football field during that time.

Gamino said she is optimistic a ban will be approved this session because
she says the public is more educated about the dangers of texting drivers.

“We’re trying to bring it more to the forefront of the public’s eye. Surveys show the public is in favor of this,” Gamino said.

-Carmen Forman