Is it Legal to Text and Drive in Oklahoma?

Cell phones and smartphones have opened up worlds of information. However, they’ve also had a negative effect: an increased number of automotive accidents caused by distracted driving. In an effort to combat the problem, most states have enacted legislation banning texting while driving. Is Oklahoma among them? And just how big of a problem is distracted driving, anyway? Our Oklahoma City car accident lawyers have the answers.

OK Gov. Mary Fallin Signs Law Banning Texting While Driving

Cell phone use in the United States has been on a steady rise for years. According to Pew Research Center data, 90% of U.S. adults reported having a cell phone as of January 2014, compared to just 53% in May 2000. If the numbers continue to follow this course, it will only be a matter of years before every adult in the United States owns a cell phone or smartphone.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may remember our February article about a proposed ban on texting and driving in Oklahoma. The proposal, known as House Bill 1965, was authored by Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R- Catoosa) in response to the tragic death of Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Nicholas Dees, who was killed after being struck by a distracted driver. The driver, who was using his smartphone to update a social media profile at the time of the accident, also seriously injured Dees’ partner, Trooper Keith Burch.

At the time our previous article was published, HB 1965 had just been passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, but was still making its way through the Senate. We’re pleased to report that HB 1965 was passed by the Senate in April, and was subsequently signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 5, 2015.

Gov. Fallin summed up the bill succinctly: “Don’t text and drive in the state of Oklahoma.” That statement certainly captures the spirit of the bill in a nutshell, but let’s take a closer look at its specific content and provisions.

texting while driving

Cell Phone Law to Take Effect November 1, 2015

HB 1965 has been added to Oklahoma’s statutes under Title 47, which deals with motor vehicles, as 47 O.S. § 11-901c. The statute makes it unlawful for any driver to operate a motor vehicle or commercial vehicle on “any street or highway” within the state of Oklahoma, regardless of whether the driver is an Oklahoma resident or resides out-of-state, while texting, emailing, or instant messaging.

In addition to prohibiting texting while driving, the law also bans any use of a hand-held mobile device for drivers of commercial vehicles. However, there is an exception for calling the police or emergency services, like 9-1-1.

While the ban prohibits writing and sending text messages, it does not prohibit any of the following actions:

  • Using voice commands to select a phone number, extension, or voicemail access.
  • Entering, choosing, or reading information on a GPS device.
  • Using a multi-purpose device (such as a smartphone or MP3 player) for non-texting or non-typing purposes.
    • Smartphones and other devices may not be used to check emails, update social media accounts, or other purposes that involve typing.

The law is subject to primary enforcement, which means that police officers can pull drivers over for suspected texting violations. (By comparison, secondary enforcement means officers cannot stop vehicles for the violation, but may cite the violation after pulling the driver over for another legitimate reason.)

A violation of this law is a misdemeanor, subject to a $250 fine for a first offense. Subsequent offenses may be fined up to $500.

How Many Accidents Are Caused by Distracted Driving?

The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains a division called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, whose job is to reduce injuries, deaths, and economic losses caused by traffic accidents throughout the United States. The NHTSA has published numerous reports and analyses of various accident and injury causes and contributors, including distracted driving.

According to a 2012 NHTSA report, during that year distracted driving accounted for:

  • 10% of all fatal crashes, resulting in 3,328 deaths.
  • 18% of all injury crashes, resulting in 28,000 injuries caused specifically by distraction with cell phones.
  • 16% of total traffic crashes in the United States.

Drivers in the 20- to 29-year-old age group were most likely to be involved in distraction-related crashes, accounting for just over a quarter (27%) of all distracted drivers in the U.S. Drivers in this age group were also most statistically likely to use their cell phones while driving: 34%, compared to 23% of drivers in the 30- to 39-year-old age group in the next leading position. Unsurprisingly, drivers aged 70 or older were at the opposite end of the spectrum, accounting for just 1% of motorists who used their phones while driving.

distracted driving with a cellphone

On the state level, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office reports 10 fatal accidents “involving a driver distracted by an electronic device” during 2007, plus an additional 24 fatal accidents “involving a driver who was distracted by something other than electronic devices,” for a total of 34 fatal crashes related to distracted driving. The following year, 2.3% of all Oklahoma crashes involved distraction by an electronic device (about 1,670 crashes). An additional 7.1% (about 5,160 crashes) were caused by distracted driving not involving an electronic device (e.g. distraction by eating, makeup, events outside the vehicle).

Contact an Oklahoma City Car Accident Lawyer Who Is Ready to Help You

If you were hit by a texting driver in Oklahoma City, you may be able to get compensated for your injuries and financial losses. To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the personal injury lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040. Our attorneys also handle truck accidents and motorcycle accidents.