Joining the 45 other states in America that have implemented an all-out ban on texting while driving, Oklahoma officially made it illegal to send a message while operating a vehicle on Sunday. Though the state was previously one of the last holdouts in the push towards making the action a national no-no, a tragic accident in January that left Trooper Nicholas Dees and injured Trooper Keith Burch dead at the hands of a texting driver finally proved too much to handle. Now, the law named after the two slain troopers, will impose a $100 fine on those caught texting or emailing from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
Speaking to reporters, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson said of the latest legislation, “Trooper Nic Dees never made it home to his family, just like dozens of other Oklahomans each year who are killed by distracted driving. Not only is texting while driving senseless, it is selfish.”
And it’s something that law enforcement officers in Oklahoma say they see on a regular basis. “They’re just so used to doing it, they don’t even realize it anymore,” Trooper Matt Hugheart said. “That’s why if they’re sitting in a chair at the house, or in their vehicle moving down the highway or on the city street that they’re doing it.”
Trooper Brian Odom told local news station News9 that some drivers are so engrossed in their phones that they’re completely unaware of the flashing lights behind them. But now, finally, Odom can actually take action. “Any time you see someone manipulating their phone, you can pull them over,” he said.
Of course, determining when someone is manipulating their phone or just looking down at something else (a spill, a dropped item, etc.) may be difficult at first. “If they’re just glancing down, maybe they spilled something but if they’ve got their head focused on their lap for 20 seconds, then you’re going to want to investigate that further,” Odom said. “They’ll be some growing pains at first, but I think we’ll be able to wade through that and do some good with it.”
Ultimately, officials agree, this law is a long time coming. “I know that all of our troopers and their families are very happy that this law was passed because they deal with the consequences of distracted driving every day,” Commissioner Thompson said. Brandi Dees, the widow of Trooper Nicholas Dees and the mother of two little girls, told local media, “It’s heartbreaking, it takes someone’s death, my children’s father, you know, to get that law passed.”
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