Originally Published: March 8, 2011 10 p.m.
A father who lost his son in a tragic accident is bicycling across the country "banging on doors" in hopes people will listen to him and support his call for change.
The father, Robert Okerblom, was at the Arizona Capitol on Monday in support of two bills legislators have introduced that would ban drivers from writing or reading messages while operating vehicles. One, Senate Bill 1538, targets all drivers, and the other, House Bill 2426, would prohibit minors from using cell phones for any reason when they are behind the wheel. Previous proposed measures on this subject have failed. To date, SB1538 is headed to the Senate floor, and HB2426 is sitting in committee, but might come up again as an amendment or strike-everything bill.
A teen driver hit and killed Okerblom's son, Eric, 19, on July 25, 2009, when he had gone on a bike ride near his home in Guadalupe, Calif. Circumstances surrounding the fatal accident stumped Robert Okerblom, because the weather that day was clear, and his son was riding on a straight country road.
When the elder Okerblom subpoenaed phone records, he said he discovered the teen driver had been texting.
In his son's memory, he started the nonprofit Eric Okerblom Foundation to advocate for distracted-driver laws. He began his bike ride last month in San Diego and will end it in Florida, visiting, in particular, states that do not have such laws. Arizona is one of them.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 because of crashes involving driver distraction. More than half a million suffered injuries as a result. The administration says that driving and texting at the same time pose the highest crash risk of all forms of distraction, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers who use cell phones as they navigate their vehicles are four times more likely to get into injurious vehicle crashes.
The statistics collected by two credible agencies are, suffice it to say, alarming. Talking on cell phones - and even more so, texting - are dangerous and possibly deadly activities to engage in while people drive.
Operating any vehicle requires constant attention. Just plain common sense tells us that. Roadways present enough hazards as it is. It's only reasonable to expect motorists to simply turn off their cells when they are driving.
So why do we need laws to make them do something so simple and responsible? Because lawmakers cannot legislate common sense, that's why.
Robert Okerblom's tragic story should be enough of a wake-up call - but don't count on it.