TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has launched a campaign to crack down on distracted drivers. Every year, it causes hundreds of crashes, many of them fatal.
OHP wants to keep the roads safe for all drivers, that's why, when you're behind the wheel, they ask you to keep your full attention on the road.
We rode along with Trooper Russell Cissne as he patrolled Tulsa Highways looking for distracted drivers. At one point he was tested when his own phone rang.
"Probably not look at it, huh?" Cissne said.
While he passed the test, he said many do not.
“Distracted driving is becoming worse and worse, it’s as dangerous as driving intoxicated,” Cissne said.
He said it also leads to crashes.
“We are serious about enforcing the distracted driving laws because we do want to prevent people from getting hurt and killed out here on these roads,” Cissne said.
Between 2017 and 2019 distracted drivers caused more than 5,000 crashes in the state.
“That’s one of the hardest parts of this job, is to go tell a family that their loved one has been killed in a motor vehicle collision," Cissne said.
In 2020, Tulsa County alone had 129 crashes and three deaths.
“Those numbers are too high. We’d like to educate the public to bring those down,” Lt. Mark Southall with OHP said.
So, what is distracted driving?
The law states it as follows:
"It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any street or highway within the state while using a handheld electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion."
However, Trooper Cissne said people often misinterpret a distraction.
“I think people have a misconception that if they’re not texting, then it’s okay…anything they’re doing with the phone though it’s not okay, it’s a distraction,” Trooper Cissne said.
He said it’s not about punishment, but awareness.
“We’re looking for compliance and our mission is to correct the behavior, it’s not, it’s not just to cost people money, it’s to hopefully make them think about next time they think about doing anything besides driving,” Cissne said.
During our ride-along, he pulled one driver over.
“When I went to pass you there, you had your phone up," Cissne said.
The driver said she was just holding the phone with her music playlist.
Trooper Cissne issued her a warning.
“Anything that you’re doing with the phone, or anything in the car, it’s a distraction okay…I want you to be safe and be careful,” Cissne said.
He used this as an educational opportunity.
In just 2.5 hours, Trooper Cissne, pulled over five cars for distracted driving. He cited three with a 254 dollar fine. The other two drivers were given a warning.
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