On November 1, Oklahoma officially became the 46th state to ban texting while driving, a law that legislators say is as an effort to make Oklahoma roadways safer by reducing the number of distracted drivers.
House Bill 1965, authored by Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, makes texting while driving a primary offense, which means an officer can pull a person over without witnessing any other violations, and imposes a maximum $100 fine for violation of the law. The law exempts drivers who are using their phone to communicate with emergency responders while driving.
“This is a wake-up call not just for teen drivers but all of us who have become accustomed to the constant contact our cellular devices provide,” said Speaker of the House Jeffrey W. Hickman, R-Fairview. “Texting while driving is becoming one of the leading causes of death, which is not surprising as a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study shows typing or reading text on a cell phone is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.”
The measure received overwhelming support in the Legislature, passing out of the House by a vote of 85-7 and out of the Senate by a vote of 38-6 before being signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May.
“More than 330,000 injuries each year are caused by texting and driving across the nation,” said O’Donnell. “Although we do not know when, where or who, what we do know is that this law will prevent needless property damage and injuries and it will save lives on Oklahoma’s roads and highways.”
According to the Department of Public Safety, in 2013 data, distracted drivers using electronic devices caused more than 600 auto crashes, including 14 fatal accidents. The danger to Oklahomans has only increased as cell phone ownership has soared during the past decade, said Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson
“This is not only an important public safety issue, but it is personal for the Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol,” said Thompson. “In February, a state trooper was killed in the line of duty and another trooper was seriously injured with life threatening injuries that he is still recovering from today. This traumatic incident occurred because a driver was updating his social media accounts instead of watching the road.”
Thompson believes Oklahoma’s new law will help other families and other law enforcement officers avoid additional tragedies in the future.
“Trooper Nic Dees never made it home to his family, just like dozens of other Oklahomans each year who are killed by distracted driving,” Thompson said. “Not only is texting while driving senseless, it is selfish. I know that all of our Troopers and their families are very happy that this law was passed because they deal with the consequences of distracted driving every day.”
Several telecommunications providers also supported the bill.
The law is known as the “Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015,” in memory of State Trooper Nic Dees and in honor of State Trooper Keith Burch. A driver who was texting struck the Troopers on February 9 while they were working a traffic accident on I-40. Dees was killed and Burch received devastating injuries.