- The bill provides civil and criminal immunity to drivers who unintentionally injure protestors
- The bill simultaneously penalizes protestors blocking public roadways during protests
- The bill was criticized by some for limiting legal protests after George Floyd’s death incident
HB 1674 was signed by Oklahoma’s Republican governor on 21 April
Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma approve a bill that provides civil and criminal immunity to motorists and drivers who unwittingly hit or injure drivers while fleeing from a chaotic riot. It simultaneously subjects demonstrators and protestors who block roadways to penalization.
House Bill 1674
The bill, HB 1674, was signed by Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, on 21 April 2021.
The bill 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 […] the injury or death of the individual occurred while the motor vehicle operator was fleeing from a riot […] under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death.”
Under House Bill 1674, motorists trying to escape from a riot with reasonable belief of potential danger cannot be held criminally or civilly responsible for injuring or killing demonstrators.
The bill penalizes the obstruction of a public street, highway or road, labelling it as a misdemeanor, by sentencing a year in a country jail and charging as high as $5,000. Anyone who commits the offense will be liable for damages.
Criticism against the bill
State Republicans, however, have countered the bill stating that it merely attempts to protect drivers in harm’s way as the Republican who introduced the bill to the House argued that, “This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests. Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”
Critics argued that the bill will limit legal protests after a summer of nationwide demonstrations against police violence and racism in response to George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
Author of the bill, state Sen. Rob Standridge clarified in a video statement that the law sets a high standard. “It has to be unintentional, first and foremost,” Standridge said, and the driver must feel they are in “imminent harm,” “like people are trying to break open the windows, and trying to drag someone out of the vehicle.”
Introduction of the bill
The bill was a primary response to an incident in Tulsa during May 2020. A driver, while escaping a road protest for George Floyd’s murder, ended up injuring three people and one paralyzed from waist down while driving through the crowd. The driver wasn’t charged for holding rational reasons for speeding up.
“This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation,” state Rep. Kevin West said in a statement last week. “When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families, or their property.”