(Stillwater, Okla.) Oklahoma State Trooper Nicholas Dees was killed on January 31, 2015, by a man who is believed to have been updating social media on his phone while driving. His partner, Trooper Keith Burch, was severely injured from the accident and is still in recovery. The fact of the matter is, Trooper Dees is one of 3,000 people in the U.S. who are expected to die this year in a distracted driving related accident. What is even more upsetting, is that the Oklahoma Legislature has the power to prevent that, but is doing almost nothing about it. As students at Oklahoma State University, we want our legislators to do more to prevent these deadly accidents, instead of settling for punishing offenders after the fact.
HB 1965 was written to make texting and driving a secondary offense. While it’s a great start, we believe the bill can be improved. Primary offense legislation would allow law enforcement officers take preventative measures against texting and driving, while a secondary offense measure means a ticket could only be given if the driver was stopped for a separate citation. This will not prevent tragic accidents; it merely fines the violator after the infraction. That is why we, as a student group, want legislators to amend HB1965 to make texting and driving a primary offense.
According to the National Safety Council, about 1.6 million accidents are caused by texting while driving per year. The National Highway Safety Administration has determined that texting makes drivers 23 times more likely to crash, and Forbes found it to be six times more dangerous than drinking and driving. Also, a new study from The AAA Foundation found that distractions, such as texting while driving, were a factor in nearly 6 of 10 moderate to severe crashes involving teen drivers. Despite all these studies, Oklahoma happens to be one of only six states in the country without laws that ban this dangerous distraction.
While HB1965 takes a stab at prevention, it completely misses the mark. Instead of preventing one of the worst things you can do behind the wheel, it merely punishes offenders. The legislation, which was renamed the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act, passed the Oklahoma House on February 24 and the Senate Public Safety Committee on March 26.
In the coming weeks, the bill is going to hit the floor of the senate. We are asking Oklahoma legislators to represent our voices, and the voices of students and constituents across the state, by amending this legislation to make it a primary offense and protect all drivers and their families on Oklahoma roads.
We are also asking Oklahomans to remember the tragedy that killed Trooper Dees and take action to prevent distracted driving in Oklahoma to save lives. Voters can be proactive against the threat of distracted driving and protect themselves and their families by contacting their legislators. Find them on www.oklegislature.gov/findmylegislature.aspx.
Susan OcchipintiOSU SeniorMultimedia Journalism and Strategic Communications