- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin added her signature Tuesday to legislation that makes it illegal to text message while driving in Oklahoma and then issued a challenge to the state’s motorists.

“Don’t text and drive in the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “We need to have a change in attitude in our state when it comes to texting or being distracted while you’re driving down the highway. It’s very dangerous.”

Fallin signed the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act into law during a ceremony attended by state lawmakers, uniformed Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and family members of the two troopers who were struck by an allegedly distracted driver in January. Dees died at the scene and Burch is still undergoing rehabilitation for his injuries.

“Unfortunately we are here today because of a tragedy,” Fallin said alongside members of the trooper’s families, including retired Trooper Bruce Dees and Brandi Dees, the father and widow of Nicholas Dees, and Burch’s wife Kayla.

“It reminded us all how dangerous texting or using a mobile device can be while one is driving,” the governor said. “But we also want to make sure that something positive comes out of this tragedy. Today, we’re going to do something about that.”

Oklahoma is the 46th state to pass legislation banning the practice of texting while driving.

Brandi Dees and other members of her family wore T-shirts at the ceremony emblazoned with the shield of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the words: “In Loving Memory OHP 731 Trooper Nick Dees.”

“This is a bill that we strongly believe in and one that I know my husband would support,” Brandi Dees said following the ceremonial bill signing. “Through our tragedy we’re hoping to save as many lives as we can.”

The troopers were struck by a vehicle as they investigated an accident on Interstate 40 in Seminole County. Authorities have said the driver of the vehicle was updating his social media on a smartphone at the time of the accident.

“It was just so unnecessary, so unnecessary for this to occur,” Public Safety Commissioner Mike Thompson said. He said the law will be a new tool for law enforcement to use to stop the practice of texting and driving that AAA Oklahoma has described as an epidemic.

“If we save one life, it’s worth it,” Thompson said.

Fallin said that in 2013, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office reported that drivers distracted by electronic devices were involved in 14 fatal crashes, 602 injury crashes and 1,028 non-injury crashes.

The National Safety Council says texting while driving results in 330,000 injuries each year and is the cause of one out of four accidents, the governor said.

The legislation makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a hand-held electronic device to compose, send or read electronic messages while driving. Violations are punishable by a $100 fine.

The bill makes texting and driving a primary offense, meaning Oklahoma drivers could be pulled over and ticketed for texting while driving without first having committed another traffic offense.

It contains exceptions for emergency situations and does not apply to voice-activated devices in which a driver’s hands would not be needed to write, send or read a text message.

The measure goes into effect Nov. 1.

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Online:

House Bill 1965: https://bit.ly/1zDfedz


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