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Oklahoma bans, punishes texting and driving

This week, Oklahoma became the 46th state to ban texting while driving. The law, known as the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015, applies to all drivers and went into effect Sunday.

The law was named after two state troopers in Seminole County who were involved in a collision with a driver who was updating social media behind the wheel. Officer Dees was killed, and Officer Burch was seriously injured.

“A lot of people have been waiting for something like this to happen,” said Tulsa Police Department Officer Brandon Smith.

Sarah Bistline, an ORU freshman, had the same reaction to the ban.

“I think it’s a law that everyone can generally agree with,” Bistline said.

This sentiment could be a reaction to the increasingly alarming statistics related to texting while driving. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cites a report from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute which claimed “text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.”

The Oklahoma law deals specifically with composing, reading and sending electronic messages while the vehicle is in motion. If a driver is ticketed for texting while driving, they could be fined up to $100. Certain exceptions do apply, including communicating in emergency situations.

Smith said whether or not a ticket should be issued is up to the discretion of the officer. Even if a driver is pulled over for texting, he or she may be released with a verbal warning if the officer chooses not to give a ticket. Officers will not only look for drivers with cell phones in hand, but they will also be looking for signs that a driver may be texting, such as swerving or other reckless behavior.

While the use of a cell phone GPS, music playlist or hands-free device is not technically considered illegal under the new law, an officer may pull over a driver who poses a threat to himself or other drivers, according to the Oklahoma prohibition against distracted driving.

“Technically they’re not texting,” said Smith. “But it’s still a violation.”

Oklahoma lawmakers and police officers hope this new texting ban will reduce traffic accidents and ultimately save lives.

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