OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Hamilton Martyn-Farewell admits he types text messages on his cell phone while driving, even though he acknowledges it's probably not a good idea.
“It's horrible to text and drive,” the 22-year-old Norman man said. “I still do it a few times a day, generally, but I try to stay pretty attentive when I text message.”
Concerned about a possible increase in the number of accidents caused by using cell phones while driving, state lawmakers plan to explore whether to outlaw the use, particularly among younger drivers.
Reps. Sue Tibbs and Danny Morgan plan to hold an interim study on the issue and say they're open to anything from age-specific restrictions to an outright ban on using cell phones, except with handsfree devices.
“I am open and I hope that what we present to the committee will also give some ideas or open their minds to this subject,” said Tibbs, R-Tulsa, who said she asked for the interim study at the request of an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.
Morgan, D-Prague, authored a bill last session that would have outlawed the use of cell phones by drivers under 18 years old, but the bill never received a hearing in a House committee.
Morgan, whose daughter Danielle is 16 and learning to drive, said he already has a family rule that prevents his teen from using a cell phone while driving.
“Anything that takes the driver's attention away from that responsibility of manipulating the controls of an automobile is a concern,” Morgan said. “If you take the cell phone out of their hand, that's one less distraction they have to worry about.”
Morgan said he'd like to start with teen drivers, and if the ban leads to fewer collisions, possibly expand it to include adult drivers.
“The reason I wanted to start with youthful drivers is that it's a good way to statistically track those drivers and see if we get a continuing reduction in accidents,” he said.
A study released in May by the Public Policy Institute of California shows a new California law requiring drivers to use handsfree devices in their vehicles will prevent 300 traffic deaths in that state each year, particularly in bad weather.
California is one of six states, plus the District of Columbia, that ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.
Another 17 states have outlawed the use of cell phones by young drivers. Washington and New Jersey both specifically ban text messaging while driving.
The biggest problem with sending text messages while driving is that it's most common among young drivers who already are inexperienced, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown.
“Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers don't know the consequences of inattentive driving until it's too late,” Brown said. “It's very dangerous, and we know this has contributed to more collisions in the past few years.”