Oklahoma in Bottom Third on Laws to Prevent Car Crashes, Fatalities, Group Says

Oklahoma ranks in the bottom third when it comes to traffic safety laws, according to a national traffic advocacy group. The group says Oklahoma needs stricter laws on seat belt use, driver age, child safety seats, motorcycle helmets, drunk driving and texting while driving. The Sooner state could save lives and reduce the economic impact of auto accidents and fatalities, according to the group’s report, which was released on Tuesday.

For years the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety have been pushing for state-by-state adoption of 15 traffic safety laws. Oklahoma has seven of the 15 recommended laws. Thirty-two states score higher, although not a single state has adopted all 15 of the laws.

Oklahoma had 708 fatalities due to motor vehicle accidents in 2012. The group estimates the economic impact of Oklahoma motor vehicle accidents is $2.6 billion in terms of property and productivity losses, medical and emergency bills and other costs.

The Advocates’ 55-page annual report, 2014 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws, based on 2012 data, revealed that more than 5.5 million crashes occur in the U.S. annually, causing more than 33,500 fatalities and 2.4 million injuries. More than 90 people are killed and about 6,500 injured each day on U.S. streets and highways.

The economic impact nationwide is estimated at $230 billion a year, which the Advocates  characterize as a “crash tax” of $730 per person.

TRAFFIC SAFETY LAWS RECOMMENDED FOR OKLAHOMA

The eight laws Oklahoma should adopt in order to achieve 100% on the organization’s report card are:

• Primary enforcement of seat belt use in back seats. “Primary enforcement” means law enforcement officers are allowed to stop and ticket people who are not wearing seat belts, even if no other offense is suspected. Oklahoma allows primary enforcement of front-seat seat belt use, but not rear seat belts. Eighteen states mandate primary enforcement of rear seat belt laws.

• Text messaging restriction: Oklahoma forbids drivers with learner’s and intermediate permits from texting while driving. Thirty-seven states make texting illegal for all drivers.

• Helmets required for all motorcycle riders: Oklahoma requires helmets only for cycle riders age 17 and below. Nineteen states require all riders to wear helmets. The Advocates estimate such a requirement in Oklahoma would save 24 lives a year. Motorcycle fatalities account for 15% of all traffic fatalities nationwide.

• Ignition interlock law for all drunk driving offenders: Oklahoma has a tough ignition interlock law, the Erin Swezey Act enacted in 2011. The law requires ignition interlocks for all repeat offenders and for all first-time convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or greater. However, a blood level of 0.08 or more constitutes driving under the influence. The Advocates call upon Oklahoma to require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.

CHILD, TEEN TRAFFIC SAFETY

The remaining laws recommended for Oklahoma by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety believe Oklahoma have to do with the safety of children and teenagers. The report said that automobile crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 5 and up, teenagers and young adults 24 and below.

The recommended laws are:

• A booster seat required through age 7: Oklahoma law requires a booster seat for children through age 5. A seat belt is acceptable for children ages 6 to 12. The Advocates and other safety groups contend that seat belts are designed for adults and can cause injury to children.

• Make the minimum age for a learner’s permit 16 years and the minimum age for an unrestricted license 18 years: An Oklahoma teen can obtain a learner’s permit at 15½ and an unrestricted license as early as age 16½.

• Cell phone restriction for driver’s with learner’s and intermediate permits: Oklahoma has such a restriction, but it is not as strict as the Advocates recommend.

CHANGES AHEAD IN OKLAHOMA?

Several bills are expected to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, which convenes on Feb. 3. However, such bills have been proposed, debated and defeated before.

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident that has resulted in a fatality or serious injury, Contact our office to schedule a free consultation about your legal rights. For more information about car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or boat accidents, see our Car Accidents webpage, which offers answers to several frequently asked questions and a one-minute video, “What is My Car Accident Worth?”