No texting and driving: One year of Oklahoma law

Police Officers can give a $100 fine for texting and driving. Online photo.

Police Officers can give a $100 fine for texting and driving. Online photo.

One year ago, Gov. Mary Fallin passed House Bill 1965, banning texting and driving in the state of Oklahoma.

According to NewsOK, House Bill 1965 moved texting and driving to a primary offense. Before, this law was a secondary offense, meaning an officer was required to pull over a motorist for another issue before citing the driver for texting. Now an officer can cite a driver simply for texting, and write them a $100 fine.

However, Oklahoma Christian University Police Chief Greg Giltner said it has been difficult to cite student drivers for texting.

“This is a great law and a needed law,” Giltner said. “We have not cited anyone for texting on campus yet. It is extremely tough to catch someone texting while driving on our campus unless they are simply holding the phone in the windshield texting. Then we can catch them.”

Giltner said with the access to voice-texting, it makes it even more difficult to define if they are actually texting.

“I would strongly suggest to our students that have the access to voice texting, to use it,” Giltner said. “Students can lay their phone down and voice activate their texts, which is much easier and less distracting than texting. But on the other hand, this makes it seem to us officers as if they are texting because the phone is in their face.”

According to NewsOK, in 2013 drivers distracted by electronic devices caused 14 fatal crashes and 602 injuries.

An accident involving two highway patrolmen was a major help in gaining legislative support for the bill. A vehicle struck Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers Nicholas Dees and Keith Burch on Jan. 31 while investigating an accident on Interstate 40 in Seminole County. Dees died at the scene while Burch was seriously injured and continues to undergo rehabilitation. The driver of the vehicle was reportedly updating a social media page at the time of the accident.

According to NewsOK, Fallin used this situation as a boost to get the bill signed on the day the bill went on the legislative floors.

“The driver of the vehicle actually didn’t notice the accident on the highway and was so distracted by looking at his mobile phone device that he never saw it until the impact of the crash itself,” Fallin said. “Today something positive will come out of this tragedy. We will sign a bill today that will protect lives and save lives.”

Oklahoma Christian student Michael Mitchell said he was pulled over for texting and driving and doesn’t text and drive anymore.

“I did not realize how distracting texting and driving can be,” Mitchell said. “I was just so focused and so in tune to my phone that I did not realize the effect it had on other people.”

Mitchell said the officers were very kind but also very informative and demanded he stopped texting and driving.

“The officers treated me with respect when they pulled me over,” Mitchell said. “But on the other hand they also were very stern in explaining the consequences of texting and driving, which could ultimately lead to a fatal accident.”

According to Nondoc.com, between the time the bill was signed in November 2015 until March 2016, a span of 141 days, Oklahoma police officers issued 367 citations for texting and driving.

Oklahoma Secretary of Safety and Security Michael Thompson said to NewsOK this event with the highway patrolmen was ‘so unnecessary.’

“There is no reason for anyone to lose their life because you’re updating your status on Facebook,” Thompson said. “It should be a crime, and now it will be.”

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