Oklahoma’s New Distracted Driving Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Oklahoma Distracted Driving Bill - HB 2228Oklahoma House Bill 2228 makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while the driver uses or holds a handheld cellular telephone (or another electronic device) while the driver’s vehicle is in motion. The House Public Safety Committee passed the bill on February 22 to reduce distracted driving accidents.

According to Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow), Oklahoma did enact a ban on texting while driving in 2015 – after a distracted driving accident resulted in the death of Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Nicholas Dees and severe injury to Trooper Keith Burch. That law only applies to texting while driving. House Bill 2228 makes it clear that a driver needs to focus all of their attention on driving by making it illegal to hold or view content on a cell phone or any other electronic device.

The law does not apply to drivers who use hands-free devices or devices that play through the car radio. Oklahoma HB 2228 does provide for exceptions for speaking with law enforcement and some other official emergency communications. The bill also requires that the driver consent to an officer confiscating the phone to determine if a violation occurred.

Sounds pretty good, right? And it probably is – until you get to the penalty portion of the bill.

What is the penalty for distracted driving in Oklahoma?

The fine is a mere $5 plus court costs and fees that can be assessed can be no more than a combined $95. Congressman Ford’s claim that the new bill could save lives may be more wishful thinking than reality since the fine isn’t much of a deterrent.

Sadly, even the $100 fine that can be assessed for texting while driving does very little to discourage drivers from reading, writing, or sending electronic messages while a driver is in a vehicle.

What is distracted driving?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines distracted driving as any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the steering wheel, and/or mind off of driving. The CDC states that in 2019, more than 3,100 people were killed and nearly 424,000 were injured in accidents involving a distracted driver. About 20 percent of the people killed were outside any vehicles – they were pedestrians and bicycle riders.

Common examples of distracted driving include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Using a cell phone while driving
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking while drinking
  • Looking at other people in the vehicle – especially children and pets which may require hands-on attention
  • Driver fatigue
  • Driver intoxication
  • Adjusting an entertainment system such as a radio or CD player
  • Looking at a GPS instead of listening to the GPS

What are the other distracted driving laws in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma law specifically states that:

The operator of every vehicle, while driving, shall devote their full time and attention to such driving.

No law enforcement officer shall issue a citation under this section unless the law enforcement officer observes that the operator of the vehicle is involved in an accident or observes the operator of the vehicle driving in such a manner that poses an articulable danger to other persons on the roadway that is not otherwise specified…

Oklahoma law also provides that commercial vehicle drivers and public transit drivers cannot, while driving in Oklahoma, use a cellular phone or an electronic communication device to write, read, or send a text message. These drivers cannot use a hand-held mobile telephone while operating their vehicles. Some exceptions may apply. A violation of this section is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of $500. Many of the cases our Tulsa truck accident lawyers handle involve commercial vehicles, some of which are ultimately found to be distracted at the time of a collision they have caused.

Oklahoma law also makes it illegal for a driver of any vehicle in Oklahoma to use “a hand-held electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion.” The penalty is up to $100. No points on a driver’s record will be assessed for this violation. Some exceptions may apply.

How common is distracted driving?

According to the Zebra, an online insurance information site:

  • Distracted driving spikes at night between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm. (Cambridge Mobile Telematics)
  • In 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving was a factor in 8.1 percent of all deadly motor vehicle accidents. 20 percent of all car accident injuries are due to distracted driving according to the NHTSA.
  • More than 2 in 5 high school students admit that they text or email while driving.

According to a 2021 Zebra survey:

  • More than half of all respondents admitted to eating while driving. More than 23 percent of respondents said that they text while driving. Another 11.7 percent said they take photos while driving. 6.5 percent said they apply makeup while driving.
  • While 36 percent of the respondents acknowledge that using a mobile device while driving is dangerous, 36 percent also said they do use a cell phone while driving.
  • 9% of the age group 18-24 felt the most pressure to respond to a text while driving.

Here’s a “fun” fact: 40.4 percent of Apple users admitted to using their cell phone while driving while 50.1 percent of Android users admitted to using a cell phone while driving. So if you get in the car with an Android user, make sure to take the phone.

The best way to hold distracted drivers accountable for any accidents they cause is to file a personal injury claim for all your economic and personal damages or a wrongful death claim if a family member tragically dies. Not only will such a lawsuit hold a negligent driver publicly accountable, but it may also cause that driver to think twice about engaging in dangerous behaviors again.

Distracted driving accidents are inexcusable. Drivers should eat, drink, plan their trip, and communicate with the people they need to speak to before they start their trip or after the trip is completed. At Biby Law Firm, we handle all types of vehicle accidents including car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents. Our lawyers are skilled at showing a driver was distracted when an accident happened and that the distraction caused the accident. To more fully understand your rights, call our Tulsa accident lawyers or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.