Oklahoma law penalizes highway protests

May 6, 2021

Keith Goble

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Concern about highway protests that disrupt traffic has resulted in a new Oklahoma law. At least a dozen measures introduced this year in statehouses around the country also address the issue.

The legislative pursuit is in response to traffic interruptions over the past year related to protests and demonstrations over police actions.

Advocates say efforts to keep protests off busy roadways are a commonsense way to help ensure public safety. Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, view efforts to punish protesters as violations of the First Amendment.

Oklahoma takes action against highway protests

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law a bill to give legal protections to drivers described as “trying to escape from riots.”

The bill, HB1674, was introduced in response to an incident about one year ago in Tulsa. According to media reports, the incident involved a pickup hauling a horse trailer that hit and injured three people who had gathered on an interstate to protest the death of George Floyd.

The Oklahoma law provides civil and criminal liability protection to drivers who unintentionally cause injury or death while fleeing a scene described as a riot.

Any person who unlawfully obstructs a public street, road or highway by approaching vehicles or endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The punishment could result in up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $5,000.

Violators would also be liable for any resulting injury to a person or property damage.

“This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation,” Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said in prepared remarks. “When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property.”

The new rule takes effect on Nov. 1.

 

Action elsewhere

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law a related bill. The new law includes a provision to increase penalties for protesters who block roadways.

Protesters who “willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road” would face up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

In 2017, two states enacted laws to address concern about protests on roadways.

South Dakota law authorizes stiff penalties for standing in a highway to block traffic. Specifically, the rule sets punishment at one year in jail and/or $2,000 fines. Previously, the state could punish offenders with 30 days in jail and/or $500 fines.

In Tennessee, a law addressing the issue quadrupled the previous fine of $50 for obstructing a roadway in certain incidents. Offenders would face $200 fines for any incident that impedes an emergency vehicle from responding to an emergency. LL

H3: More Land Line coverage of news from Oklahoma.

 

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.