U Drive. U Text. U Pay.

Despite laws, motorists in Oklahoma and nationwide continue to imperil others with distracted driving.

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Oklahoma was the 46th state to enact legislation that bans texting while driving. Despite this 2015 law, people are still doing it.

“It’s a real problem,” says Trooper Dwight Durant, public information officer for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “We need to have a change in attitude in our state when it comes to texting or being distracted while you’re driving. It’s very dangerous.”

Durant says educating the public is an ongoing effort to show the dangers of distracted driving. The youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk. According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, 25 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under age 24.

However, they are not alone. Across the country, at any given moment during daylight hours, up to 660,000 drivers use hand-held devices while driving, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports.

The highway administration also reports that 3,477 people died nationwide and 391,000 were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2015. The agency says distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident than attentive ones and cause one in four accidents.

Oklahoma’s no-texting-while-driving law is named after Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers Nicholas Dees and Keith Burch, who were struck by a driver updating his social media page with his phone. Dees died at the scene, and Burch underwent long-term rehabilitation for his injuries.
The law makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a hand-held electronic device to compose, send or read electronic messages while driving. Violations are punishable by a $100 fine. Also, texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning drivers in Oklahoma can be ticketed without first having committed another traffic offense.

“We hope the anti-texting law gains momentum, just like the wearing a seat belt law did,” Durant says. “Nowadays, most people know they have to wear their seat belt or they can get a ticket. It’s a matter of time for people to learn it’s just not safe or smart to drive distracted.”

Just ‘Drop It and Drive’

The “Drop It and Drive” campaign, in 65 Oklahoma public school districts, was begun in May 2016 by Gail Lambert after her daughter, Bobbi White, an English teacher at Owasso Mid-High School, was killed in a car wreck caused by a distracted driver.

The initiative targets Oklahoma’s youngest drivers.

“If drivers aren’t watching the road, and children are distracted themselves, it’s time to do something,” Lambert says. “We need children to see and talk about this from a very young age. Texting and driving is not OK. These children will make an impact on their parents’ lives as well when they take this information home with them.”

“Drop it & Drive” signs appear all over the state.

“Several school personnel and parents have shared their stories with me,” Lambert says. “It’s amazing how many of us are out here – parents that have lost children to distracted driving.”

To get involved, Lambert says to ask schools for car decals, stickers, T-shirts and street signs. Lambert can be reached at facebook.com/gail.lambert.96.

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