A new law that makes texting while driving in Oklahoma a primary offense goes into effect on Nov. 1.
Primary offense means that law enforcement can stop drivers they observe texting. The law carries a $100 fine, not including court costs, for each violation.
The law does not allow the Department of Public Safety to record or assess points for violations on any license holder's traffic record. Exceptions to the law include devices being used in emergency situations or individuals using a device in a hands-free manner.
The law, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in May, is known as the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Keith Burch Act was named in honor of two Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers who were involved in a crash in January 2015. Trooper Dees died of injuries sustained in the crash. Trooper Burch was seriously injured.
The driver who caused the accident was reportedly updating social media when he hit the OHP vehicle, which was stopped along I-40 while investigating a semi-truck roll-over accident east of Shawnee. The driver, Steven Clark, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in August and will be sentenced in December.
According to OHP Capt. Stan Walker, Troop Commander of Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troop I based in Guymon, the law is long overdue.
"I think we're way past time for this subject to be addressed," Walker said "It's apparent as information is coming to us that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident if you're engaging in texting while driving."
Walker said public education is key to successfully implementing the new law.
"Minnesota is one state that is really ahead of us in this area. They emphasized public education in connection with this by going out to the public with information and made a huge difference [in the number of accidents directly tied to the use of electronic devices," he said.
Walker emphasized that Troop I is ramping up its efforts to ensure the law's enforcement as soon as it goes into effect.
"This is going to be a new era in Oklahoma law enforcement in terms of how we're going to enforce this," Walker said. "Our chief is extremely motivated and is fully behind this. It will be a new skill set that each officer is going to have to acquire to enforce this responsibly. Our agency would like to see a public education period to kick it off. We'd rather see the public educated, because it's for their benefit. All of us will benefit from this law."
Oklahoma is No. 46 among states enacting a texting while driving law.