Driver Was Cited for Eating a Hamburger
A city near the state line in south central Oklahoma has notified several dozen drivers ticketed for inattentive driving the city will drop their traffic citations. The tickets exceeded the authority of state law, officials say.
Police in Durant began aggressively enforcing a local distracted driving ordinance in December, 2014. A grant from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office paid officers overtime wages for stepped up traffic enforcement. The department decided to focus on allegedly distracted drivers in high-accident areas.
Officers in the city of nearly 16,000 residents issued more than 400 tickets in January alone, many or most of them for distracted driving, according to various media reports. A distracted driving traffic ticket could cost the driver around $230.
When drivers began to complain, the Durant city attorney looked closer at the local inattentive driving ordinance. He discovered the local ordinance – at least as his police force had interpreted the language – exceeded authority of the state statute requiring full time and attention to driving.
Oklahoma law only allows police to write a “full time and attention to driving” traffic ticket when a driver has an accident or otherwise poses a specific danger. Durant police had cited drivers for any action an officer believed could interfere with a driver’s attention, whether or not the officer could explain how the alleged distraction actually interfered with safe operation of a vehicle. Okla. Stat. tit. 47 § 11-901b1
Media reports indicate Durant police had cited drivers for eating a hamburger while driving, and for having a dog in the front seat.
In Oklahoma Distracted Driving Requires ‘Articulable Danger’
Since the city dismissed a large number of tickets, a court might never have an opportunity for to determine whether the language of Durant’s distracted ordinance exceeds the authority of state law. An alternative view would be that Durant police overreached in their interpretation of the local ordinance.
A traffic ticket attorney could argue the Durant ordinance only allows an officer to issue a citation when a driver’s inattention actually interferes with safe driving – in other words, “poses an articulable danger to other persons on the roadway” as the Oklahoma law states.
The Durant ordinance states: “Every driver shall remain alert and give full attention to the safe control and operation of his or her vehicle while it is in motion. Any driver who engages in any activity or does any act while driving that interferes with the safe operation and control of his or her vehicle is guilty of inattention to driving.”
According to the Durant Democrat, the city’s police chief thinks intensive patrols in high-accident areas resulted in lower accident numbers. He cited 16 injury accidents in November, 2014 followed by 10 in December and 9 in January 2015.
Common sense would suggest drivers tend to be more cautious when they frequently see police conducting traffic stops. A month-to-month comparison of accident statistics, however, might lead to wrong conclusions about the impact of saturation patrols.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review of fatal accident reports nationwide from 1975 through 2002 found that traffic fatalities are usually lower in January and February. Those are also the months when there are fewer drivers on the road. It makes sense that less vehicle miles traveled would correlate with fewer fatal accidents.
While Oklahoma law as of March 2015 does not prohibit Class D drivers from texting and driving, lawmakers want to change that. House Bill 1965 would ban texting, emailing or instant messaging while driving. Oklahoma representatives overwhelmingly approved the proposed texting and driving ban.
Do Texting and Driving Bans Reduce Accidents?
Lawmakers intentions may be good, but their efforts might be misguided. Most people agree that texting and driving is a bad idea. Not everyone agrees that texting and driving bans reduce crashes.
A 2010 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that collision claims slightly increased after texting and driving bans were adopted in four states.
Researchers theorized that drivers who would take the risk to text while driving were also willing to risk evading new texting and driving bans. Attempts to hide a cell phone while texting and driving could result in those drivers’ eyes being further diverted from driving tasks, compared to drivers who text on devices held near eye level.
Commercial drivers should note that Oklahoma does prohibit use of any electronic communication device to send or read text-based communication while a vehicle is in motion.
Recent development of voice activated cell phones may add new wrinkles to enforcement of those laws. Is a driver who vocalizes a text message less alert than a driver rocking out to loud music, or lighting a cigarette while driving?
The Governors Highway Safety Association says Oklahoma is among six states that do not ban all drivers from texting and driving. The GHSA says 14 states allow police to issue traffic tickets to any driver using a hand-held cell phone while driving, without any other offense being reported.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Traffic Ticket Attorney
Distracted driving tickets can often involve subjective judgments by issuing officers that leave room to challenge the ticket in court. Officers may be mistaken about the facts or about what the law requires. An Oklahoma traffic ticket attorney can help you determine whether it is worth fighting the ticket.
If you are cited for inattentive driving, distracted driving, failure to devote full time and attention to driving or any other related Oklahoma distracted driving law or municipal ordinance, contact a Tulsa traffic ticket attorney at Wirth Law Office. For a free consultation with a traffic citation lawyer, call (918) 879-1681 or send your question using the form at the top of this page.