On Wednesday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law that will provide more protection for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters while fleeing from a riot.
On April 21, Stitt signed House Bill 1674 into law, effective November 1, 2021.
The new law states that:
A motor vehicle operator who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual shall not be criminally or civilly liable for the injury or death, if:
1. The injury or death of the individual occurred while the motor vehicle operator was fleeing from a riot, as defined in Section 1311 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes, under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death; and
2. The motor vehicle operator exercised due care at the time of the death or injury.
House Bill 1674 also makes unlawfully obstructing a roadway a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5000.
Rep. Kevin West, who authored House Bill 1674, explained why he created the legislation.
“Last summer, during the height of violent riots that were sweeping the nation, resulting in loss of life and millions of dollars in property damage, a motorist in Oklahoma traveling with his wife and two school-aged children was surrounded by aggressive protestors in the roadway,” West said. “The protestors beat at his truck and threw things at it, scaring both him and his family. The driver was severely chastised for trying to hurt the protesters and he even faced the possibility of criminal charges for his actions in attempting to evade the protestors. This measure would clarify a motorist’s rights in a similar situation going forward. It also would clarify punishments for rioters acting illegally to impede traffic or seeking harm of other individuals during the course of a riot.”
The new law faces criticism from groups who say that it is an attempt to tamp down on free speech and the right to assemble.
On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a similar bill into law to provide civil protection for drivers who strike and injure or kill a highway protester in self-defense. Under the new Florida law, the former misdemeanor crime of blocking the highway became a felony, with possible penalties of 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Earlier this week, a truck driver was caught up in a crowd of people celebrating the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. This was the latest in a string of clashes between highway demonstrators and truck drivers that has left members of the trucking community on edge.