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Oklahoma law seems to give 100 mph speeders a pass

Analysis shows a quarter of drivers caught exceeding 100 mph in Oklahoma escape with little or any penalty. Other states take a tougher stance.
by Phillip O'Connor Published: February 18, 2013

On Nov. 30, 2011, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper ticketed Brandon L. Maples for driving 111 mph on Interstate 44 in Comanche County.

A week later, another trooper cited Maples for traveling 101 mph in Grady County.

Then, in March, Maples received another ticket in Grady County, this time for doing 102 mph.

In every instance, Maples, 34, of Oklahoma City, was found guilty. He paid $475 in fines and hundreds of dollars more in court costs.

But despite accumulating three citations in less than four months for driving more than 100 mph, Maples was never charged with reckless driving, nor did he slow down.

In September, he was cited again for speeding, this time for driving 16 to 20 mph over the limit in Kay County.

He failed to appear for a court hearing and forfeited his bond. He could not be reached for comment.

An analysis by The Oklahoman has found that despite the deadly dangers of traveling so fast, speeding laws and prosecution appear weak in Oklahoma compared with some other states.

That's led to cases such as Barry E. Wendt, 59, of Dewey, who had been cited eight times for speeding and twice for reckless driving before being ticketed in August 2010 for driving 103 mph. Ten months later, he was ticketed for driving 100 mph.

“Yes, I am a speed demon, there's no doubt about it,” said Wendt, a retired radio disc jockey who drives a Corvette. “But I'm slowing down as I get older.”

About the analysis

The Oklahoman identified the issue of problem speeders after requesting information from the Department of Public Safety on citations issued for driving at least 100 mph on the state's roadways.

The department provided 2,177 such citations issued between Jan. 1, 2010, and Oct. 4, 2012. The analysis then focused on two groups of citations: the 70 issued to drivers for traveling at least 120 mph, and the 50 issued to those who were cited more than once for driving at least 100 mph.

Two drivers landed on both lists: Daniel D. Clegg, 26, of Mannford, and Chad A. Cradduck, 23, of El Reno.

The maximum speed limit in Oklahoma is 75 mph.

A review of the selected cases found a legal system that, in many instances, allowed dangerous drivers to escape with little, if any, penalty.

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Among the newspaper's findings:

• In one out of four cases, violators either avoided prosecution, pleaded to lesser charges or received probation, which in some instances allowed them to have the citation removed from their public record.

• Authorities filed reckless driving charges only in about 10 percent of the cases. Some states mandate the often harsher penalty of reckless driving for those who exceed certain speeds. Oklahoma has no such mandatory requirement.

• In Oklahoma, drivers caught traveling at excessive speeds do not automatically lose their licenses. Some states have taken a tougher stance.


INFORMATIONAL GRAPHIC

‘Not survivable'

In Oklahoma, unsafe speed played a role in 8,924 crashes in 2011, 164 of which resulted in fatal injuries, according to statistics maintained by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

Experts say traveling at such high speeds greatly reduces driver reaction time while increasing the distance needed to stop and the amount of energy released in a collision. A crash at 100 mph produces 6.25 times the crash energy as one at 40 mph, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“This type of crash is not survivable,” said Kristin Nevels, an institute spokeswoman.

Speed has been a factor in about a third of all fatal traffic crashes nationwide since 2001. In 2010, the latest year for which figures were available, 10,395 people died in such accidents.

Vehicle safety ratings are based on collisions that occur between 35 and 40 mph, according to the institute. A collision at any higher speed greatly reduces the effects of advanced engineering and safety features built into modern vehicles. Driver safety comes down to simple physics: higher speeds at impact result in large increases in injury severity.

“Your collision factor is so greatly enhanced that your probability for creating a collision that is life-threatening to you or others is greatly increased,” said Mike Bailey, division supervisor for driver compliance with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

Why was it deferred?

In many of the cases reviewed by The Oklahoman, speeders caught a break.

In about a quarter of the cases, authorities either reduced, dismissed or declined to file charges, deferred or suspended sentences or granted expungements. That allowed many drivers to escape with little or no penalties, fewer points assessed against their driver's license and, in some cases, to have the violation wiped from the public record.

In July, a trooper ticketed Christopher D. Degrate for traveling 141 mph on a motorcycle in Tulsa County. He was charged with driving under suspension, attempting to elude a police officer, operating a motorcycle without a motorcycle endorsement and reckless driving. It's unclear from records why Degrate's license was suspended at the time he was pulled over.

In November, he pleaded guilty to all counts, but Tulsa County Special Judge Sarah D. Smith deferred the sentence for two years. If Degrate meets the court-ordered conditions, the arrest will be dismissed and expunged from his public record. Smith said she did not remember the case but was surprised when told of her ruling.

“When you hear that speed, it's very frightening. It endangers him and it endangers the public,” Smith said.

Smith said she doesn't recall what, if any, extenuating factors led her to defer the sentence, which she termed unusual, but added she followed the recommendation of prosecutors.

“I don't mind telling you I'm very concerned about the speed,” Smith said. “I just think it's good to give a hard look at cases like this.”

Questions raised by The Oklahoman prompted Steve Kunzweiler, chief of the criminal division in the Tulsa County district attorney's office, to have a conversation with the prosecutor who handled the Degrate case.

“My kind of rule of thumb was if you were going more than 30 over, I was going to charge you with reckless, I didn't care what the trooper wrote,” Kunzweiler said. “If I had to do it all over again, I don't know that I would be giving this guy the option of deferred judgment.”



Slideshow: Caught speeding? Here's what you can expect

Breakdown of 100-mph speeders by county

# of Speeders
10 - 25
25 - 50
50 - 100
100 - 166


100+ mph Speeders


Last Name First Name Age Date Time Speed
by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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Breakdown of 100-mph speeders by county

100+ mph Speeders

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