Melissa E. Webb

Attorney at Graves McLain Injury Lawyers Practice Areas: Wrongful Death, Medical Malpractice

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has recently sent out a report highlighting the number of people that have died in distracted driving cases in the United States of America. In 2020, authorities claim that more than 3,100 people have lost their lives to illegal or negligent distracted driving actions.

The issue of distracted driving has not only taken the state by storm for its statistical value, but also for its personal value. The culmination of these issues has led to Oklahoma being ranked one of the worst states for car accidents and distracted driving.

Oklahoma’s Growing Problem – How It’s a Personal Issue

GSHA goes on to count 400,000 injured individuals, not including the 3,100 who are killed annually. Oklahoma’s News 4 reports that these figures may not even represent the actual gravity of the issue. These already high numbers may be underreported as distracted driving is not always identified as the culprit after the crash. Whether it be phone use or a car full of chattering people, it is hardly easy to tell what the cause of the crash is if it is not able to be scientifically measured, such as someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. 

Pam Fischer, a representative of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, has been an outspoken critic of the state of distracted driving. Fischer herself was involved in a serious accident in which the other driver was distracted by the wheel. She uses her story to represent how distracted driving accidents can happen to anyone and stresses that, while she was lucky, many are not.

With 50% of teen drivers admitting to texting or emailing in their vehicles in a report by the AAA (American Automobile Association), many are left wondering if there are more who do not want to admit to bad habits. While there are some penalties involved with distracted driving, Fischer tries to drive home the idea that it is on the people and their circles to properly address the problem. 

The state of Oklahoma addresses distracted driving in their official declaration on the subject. Oklahoma law requires that drivers give their full attention to the road. Some are skeptical of the legislation. Fischer is not convinced that the penalties are severe enough to discourage people from driving while behind the wheel.

Driving While Distracted, According to the Books

Oklahoma identifies distracted driving as partaking in a series of activities that adverts their attention from the road in a way that is excessively dangerous or risky: 

  • Using one’s mobile cell phone, especially to text or send emails
  • Actively eating or drinking 
  • Talking or engaging in excessive distraction with other individuals in the automobile
  • Changing the stereo/music player 
  • Securing a pet in the vehicle
  • Reaching for objects in the backseat or passenger seat

Another frequently overlooked caveat to Oklahoma distracted driving laws is one that applies to public transit and commercial drivers. These individuals have tighter restrictions on what they can and cannot do, including making handheld phone calls. This ban extends to teenage drivers who are also not able to use their phones to make calls while driving – handheld or not. 

Although Oklahoma drivers must “devote their full time and attention to such driving,” according to 47 OK Stat. §47-11-901b, the state was only the 46th state to pass a ban on texting while driving. The “Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015” was passed after two state troopers were hit by a distracted driver. The penalty for doing so is only $100, a sum that may not necessarily be a fair amount according to individuals such as Fischer. 

Even so, texting while driving is considered a primary offense in Oklahoma. As such, a law enforcement officer representing Oklahoma is able to pull over a driver and issue them a citation just for witnessing the alleged offender using their phone.  

There are exceptions to Oklahoma’s distracted driving laws. Should someone need to call or communicate with ambulance services, a police officer, the fire department, or their physician, they are legally allowed to do so. 

Convictions Across State Lines

All states share criminal records with each other. Whether someone moves to Oklahoma after being convicted of a distracted driving-related charge or vice versa, there is a possibility that it will “follow” them. In a further testament to cross cooperation, moving to a new state does not alleviate someone from penalties incurred as a result of a conviction. A new state will enforce penalties from convictions received in another state, such as license suspension or probation.

Generally speaking, one usually retains the right to move out of state while dealing with a distracted driving case. One’s ability to manage the court case depends on a series of circumstances, such as the severity of the charge itself and the necessity to make a court appearance. Applying for a new license in a different state may prove difficult during suspension as your charge will still appear to the local DMV/BMV.

It is important to remember that, contrary to popular belief, it is not standard practice for items to “fall off” of a criminal record. In general, one can expect their record to follow them indefinitely, no matter the time frame or state in which they reside.

How the Punishment for Distracted Driving May Extend Far Past a Simple Fine

Although the initial fine for texting and driving is $100, proof that someone was distractedly driving immediately prior to an accident can leave them with culpability for damage to the affected persons and property. In turn, one could see insurance rates rise and other potential consequences. This would be wrapped into a negligence claim by the other party, effectively permitting them to claim compensation due to the other person partaking in illegal activity. 

Additionally, teen drivers caught texting and driving, making handheld calls, or engaging in otherwise dangerous activity while behind the wheel may have their driver’s license suspended on top of the fine. Minors may see harsher penalties due to not having had as much experience on the road and being at higher risk of being involved in accidents.

When injury victims need a law firm with a reputation for excellence, turn to Graves McLain Injury Lawyers. We are a top-rated personal injury firm determined to be the best. With decades of award-winning representation, our clients recover the compensation they need to put their lives back together.

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