As of November 1, 2015, it is illegal to text and drive in Oklahoma. By statutory definition, that includes both e-mail and text messages. The law precludes both sending and reading messages. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies do not intend to extend a grace period. Anyone caught texting and driving after November 1 will be cited with a punishment of a $100 fine if convicted.
Because the statute just became law, lawyers don’t know how the courts will react. The big question seems to be whether the law enforcement officers have authority to search a phone to determine whether a text or e-mail was sent or read. In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that without a search warrant police generally cannot search digital information on a cellphone seized from an individual who has been arrested. See Riley v. California , 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014). Because an officer would generally have to examine the phone to make a case, there is a question concerning the constitutionality of this law. It will likely be found to be constitutional so long as there is no other investigative snooping involved.
Specifically, the law reads:
Title 47, Section 11-901 of the Oklahoma Statutes
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any street or highway within this state while using a hand-held electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion.
B. Any person who violates the provisions of subsection A of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00).
C. The Department of Public Safety shall not record or assess points for violations of this section on any license holder’s traffic record maintained by the Department.
D. The provisions of subsection A of this section shall not apply if the person is using the cellular telephone or electronic communication device for the sole purpose of communicating with any of the following regarding an imminent emergency situation:
1. An emergency response operator;
2. A hospital, physician’s office or health clinic;
3. A provider of ambulance services;
4. A provider of firefighting services; or
5. A law enforcement agency.
E. Municipalities may enact and municipal police officers may enforce ordinances prohibiting and penalizing conduct under the provisions of this section. The provisions of such ordinances shall be the same as provided for in this section; the enforcement provisions of those ordinances shall not be more stringent than those of this section; and the fine and court costs for municipal ordinance violations shall be the same or a lesser amount as provided for in this section.
F. For the purpose of this section:
1. “Cellular telephone” means an analog or digital wireless telephone authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to operate in the frequency bandwidth reserved for cellular telephones;
2. “Compose”, “send” or “read” with respect to a text message means the manual entry, sending or retrieval of a text message to communicate with any person or device;
3. “Electronic communication device” means an electronic device that permits the user to manually transmit a communication of written text by means other than through an oral transfer or wire communication. This term does not include a device that is physically or electronically integrated into a motor vehicle or a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to a motor vehicle, or a hands-free device that allows the user to write, send or read a text message without the use of either hand except to activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function; and
4. “Text message” includes a text-based message, instant message, electronic message, photo, video or electronic mail.