New bill could ban handheld devices while driving in Oklahoma

DURANT, Okla.- Senate Bill 44 was introduced last week, which hopes to amend Oklahoma's current no texting and driving law to ban holding a phone completely while driving.

House Bill 1965, also known as the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act, became law in May 2015.

Dees and Burch were investigating an accident on I-40 when they were hit by a vehicle driven by a man who admitted to being on his phone when he crashed into them.

Dees was killed. Burch was seriously injured.

“He died,” Dees' mom, Shelley Russell, said. “And then they passed a law. They need to be proactive on this one.”

Oklahoma was the 46th state to pass a no text and drive law. Only 14 states have passed a complete ban on hand-held devices while driving.

Russell tells us the current law regarding phone use while driving isn't strong enough.

"My son was killed in less than 3 and a half seconds,” Russell said. “And if your phone rings and you reach for your phone and click the answer that's 3 and a half seconds."

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety reports accidents and fatalities have been reduced by 30 percent since the current law went into effect.

“There are those that are actually abiding by it but unfortunately we still have a number that are not and this is still causing accidents on our roads and highways and some of them are leading to fatalities,” Oklahoma Senator Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said.

Sharp co-authored the current bill. He said despite the bill's success in reducing accidents, law enforcement officials tell him it has some serious issues.

"It’s very difficult to enforce the anti-texting bill because basically when they pull someone over under the terminologies under that bill that the individual has to admit the fact that they are texting and driving,” Sharp said.

Sharp said the amendment he is proposing was not designed to punish the driver or take away a right; it’s designed to change a behavior that could potentially result in the loss of property, or even death.

The penalty would stay the same. Police could pull anyone over for violating the law and issue them a $100 ticket.

Drivers would still be able to use their phones as long as they are using a hands-free device.

People we spoke with said they're all for it.

"Because people would be paying attention to the road and not to their phone,” Oklahoma driver Garry Johnson said.

"Oklahoma needs to be a forerunner in this,” Russell said. “We don't need to wait until another death."

Sharp encourages people to contact their legislators about their feelings for the bill, good or bad.

The next legislative session begins February 6. If passed, the bill would take effect November 1.