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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 AND MEGAN ROLLAND Modified: February 17, 2013 at 12:25 am •  Published: February 17, 2013
/articleid/3756313/1/pictures/1955541">Photo - A photo illustration of a speedometer.  PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

“That disturbs me as a prosecutor,” he said. “It’s hard to even imagine doing that speed and having a good explanation for leniency.”

Degrate, 30, of Tulsa, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Degrate’s attorney, Jeff Krigel, of Tulsa, said Degrate’s deferred sentence was reasonable given the circumstances surrounding the ticket. He declined further comment.

In January 2010, a trooper cited Angela J. Huckaby for driving 105 mph in Pittsburg County.

Two months later, the state requested the case be dismissed. The judge who approved the dismissal has since died. Jim Miller, who was Pittsburg County district attorney at the time, said he could not recall the case but was surprised to hear it was dismissed.

“We had an internal policy that if you were doing more than 20 over, we didn’t cut deals,” Miller said. “For someone to be going that fast on the turnpike and have it dismissed, something had to be going on. If one of my associates did that, I guess they did it for a good reason.”

Whatever the reason, it didn’t slow down Huckaby.

The 28-year-old Okmulgee resident received two more speeding tickets in 2010, then was cited in June 2011 for driving 102 mph in Pushmataha County in her 2002 Toyota four-door. She was convicted and fined $135 and court costs.

Since 2002, Huckaby has been convicted three other times for speeding, twice for driving a defective vehicle and once for failure to have a minor under 13 wear a seat belt. Other charges of speeding, littering and failure to devote full time and attention to driving were dismissed.

Huckaby, 28, of Okmulgee, could not be reached for comment.

Some states are ending the practice of allowing speeders to avoid having violations appear on their driving records.

Illinois recently enacted “Julie’s Law,” which prohibited judges from giving probation to anyone charged with speeding 25 mph over the limit in urban areas and 30 mph or more over on highways.

The law was named for a 17-year-old girl who was killed when her car was hit by one driven by a 22-year-old man going at least 76 mph in a 40 mph zone before the crash. Court records show he’d received probation seven times, allowing him to keep his license, before the crash.

When is it reckless?

Despite the clear danger posed by drivers at such high speeds, authorities charged reckless driving in only 11 of the 118 cases reviewed by The Oklahoman. Four of those were cases where the driver also faced charges of attempting to elude police.

Reckless driving convictions carry harsher penalties than speeding tickets.

The maximum sentence for a first-time conviction for reckless driving is 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. A law that took effect Nov. 1, 2011, also requires a mandatory one-year license suspension. Called Aaron’s Law, it is named for Aaron Zentz, a 17-year-old from Yukon who was killed when a motorist ran a red light.

Comparatively, a first-time conviction for speeding more than 36 mph over the limit is an automatic $205 fine and up to 10 days in jail.

The decision to issue a reckless citation rests with the officer writing the ticket and the prosecutor who can upgrade speeding charges to reckless driving.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Capt. George Brown said driving 100 mph, while dangerous, isn’t always reckless.

“If somebody’s on the turnpike with 9-foot shoulders and there’s no traffic and they’re just speeding, well that’s just speeding unless there’s some circumstances that make it dangerous to the public,” Brown said.

When he patrolled, Brown used what he called “the trifecta” in determining whether to issue a reckless driving citation. If a person committed any combination of two moving violations in addition to speeding, such as frequent lane changes, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating, or failing to signal, he would write a reckless driving ticket, he said.

Other states harsher

Several other states automatically issue reckless driving citations once drivers exceed certain speeds, including 80 mph in Virginia, North Carolina and Hawaii, 85 mph in Oregon, Connecticut and Arizona and 100 mph in Minnesota and California.

Other states issue reckless tickets once posted limits are exceeded by a certain amount, from 15 mph in Arkansas to 36 mph in North Dakota.

In California, drivers caught traveling at triple-digit speeds face a misdemeanor, an automatic 30-day license suspension, a fine and two points on their driving record. A California license can be suspended if a driver accumulates four points in 12 months.

In 2010, Georgia adopted a law that targeted “super speeders,” by levying an additional $200 fee on top of a speeding ticket for those caught doing more than 75 mph on a two-lane road or 85 mph on any road.

In the majority of the cases reviewed by The Oklahoman, the penalty faced by most drivers convicted of triple-digit speeding was the maximum $205 fine and about $206 in court costs.

Those drivers also likely received three points on their driving record.

A license can be suspended if a driver receives 10 points in five years. Points range from four for reckless driving to one for a number of violations, including improper lane usage and leaving a vehicle unattended with the engine running. The most points for speeding is three, assessed against those convicted of traveling in excess of 25 mph above the posted limit.

Few lose license

Drive off without paying for a tank of gas in Oklahoma, and you automatically lose your license for six months.

Push your speedometer past 100 mph, and all you may get is a speeding ticket. Unless the violation puts the driver over the 10-point limit, Oklahoma’s law does not call for a license suspension for excessive speeding.

Many states are taking a tougher approach.

North Carolina, California and New York are among the many states that require mandatory license suspension of drivers in cases involving high speeds. In New York, drivers who receive three speeding tickets within an 18-month period also have their licenses revoked.

Under Oklahoma’s 10-point system, drivers who exceed the five-year limit for the first time receive a 30-day suspension of their license and must pay a $75 reinstatement and processing fee. Higher point totals also lead to increased insurance rates. Repeat offenders face additional fees, longer suspensions and possible revocation of their licenses.

It’s unclear how many of those caught doing more than 100 mph in Oklahoma had their licenses suspended or revoked as a result, or even how many licenses the state has suspended in the past year.

The Department of Public Safety, which administers the license revocation program, declined to release the names or numbers of drivers with suspended licenses, saying it was not required to do so under open records law.

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