Staff and Wire Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma motorists could face fines of up to $500 for texting while driving under a bill approved by a Senate panel, despite concerns that enforcing the measure would pose problems for law enforcement.
The Senate Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security voted 6-2 on Thursday for the bill that would allow police to issue a citation only if the motorist were stopped for some other reason. It now heads to the full Senate.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Maj. Rusty Rhoades said the agency supports the concept of a ban, but hasn't taken a position on the bill authored by Democratic Sen. Jerry Ellis of Valliant.
"They can text all they want to as long as they do it in a safe manner and they don't do it while they are driving," said Senator Ellis.
Ellis said he's heard from too many constituents who've been in accidents and texting was the cause.
Senator Ralph Shortey opposed the bill, saying he's concerned with government interfering in personal rights. Others agreed it may be a step too far.
"It's not a good idea. It's not safe. But should we legislate it as being unlawful? I'm not sure I would go that far," said Mark Foster, who opposed Senate Bill 146.
Senator Ellis argued anytime another person's life is in danger it's the government's duty to step in and stop it.
"When they cross the center line they are violating my rights, your rights or anyone else when they put them in danger," said Sen. Ellis.
One critical note about this bill is police will be allowed to issue a citation only if a driver was stopped for some other reason. It now heads to the full Senate for vote. A similar bill is also filed over in the House.
Right now the only drivers banned from texting and driving are teenagers who have learner's permits, school bus drivers and public transit drivers.