OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The father of an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper killed while investigating an accident on the interstate is among those promoting a law that takes effect Sunday making it illegal to read or compose texts while driving.
Flanked by legislators, troopers and medical personnel, Bruce Dees discussed the new law on Wednesday outside the emergency room at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
“I’m here to talk about saving lives,” Dees said. “It doesn’t take but a few seconds to change your life. And you may not be the one who dies, but you may be the one that ends up in the penitentiary.”
The law is named in honor of Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch. Dees was killed and Burch was seriously injured when a man accused of texting while driving crashed into them in January while they were working at an accident scene on Interstate 40.
Steven Wayne Clark, 30, has pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in connection with the crash and faces up to four years in prison when he’s sentenced on Dec. 8.
“He didn’t start out to be a bad man that day,” Dees said. “He was just distracted and wasn’t paying attention.”
The legislation makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a hand-held electronic device to compose, send or read electronic messages. Violations are punishable by a $100 fine. It also 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.
Oklahoma is the 46th state to pass legislation to ban texting while driving.
The House author of the bill, Tulsa Republican Rep. Terry O’Donnell, acknowledged that the idea faced resistance for years from many GOP colleagues who voiced concern about government interference with personal liberties.
“The biggest concern among legislators is that we would be creating some kind of nanny state, Big Brother doesn’t need to be involved, it’s my phone,” O’Donnell said.
But the families of Troopers Dees and Burch pushed for the bill during the legislative session this year, visiting with lawmakers and sitting in the galleries when the bill was considered in the House and Senate chamber. The bill passed 96-2 in the House and 38-6 in the Senate.
“I hate that the Dees family has had to go through what they’ve gone through in order for us to have this law,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson. “It’s ironic that we’re here, because this building right here is where Trooper Burch lay broken and battered just because somebody wanted to update a Facebook status.”
House Bill 1965: https://bit.ly/1zDfedz
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