Early one morning last November, Darren Fields was driving home after celebrating an Oklahoma City Thunder win against the Los Angeles Clippers when the lights of an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper lit up his car.
The trooper had been following Fields, 25, for a while as he drove eastbound in the left lane of Interstate 40. But it wasn't until Fields moved over to the right lane that the trooper flipped on his lights.
Ten days earlier, a new state law took effect, forbidding motorists on a four-lane highway to travel in the left lane. The description of the violation on the tickets describes the violation as impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane, but Fields said there was no traffic on the road to impede.
"There were maybe two other cars where I was at," he said.
The night went from an 120-111 Thunder win to a night in the Okmulgee County jail when Fields was also arrested for driving under the influence and open container. He pleaded guilty to those counts earlier this month, court records show. He was also cited for speeding, he said.
"I was probably just going about 5 or 6 over, but it's the fast lane," he said.
Violators of the new "left lane" law face fines up to $235.
"I think it's just to get money out of people's pockets," Fields said.
Fields was just one of 60 people who were cited for violating the law during the first three months it was enacted, according to records obtained by The Oklahoman.
Of those citations, the largest number were issued in Carter County. All but one of the 14 tickets in that county were issued by the same trooper, records show.
A total of 12 tickets were also issued in Oklahoma County during that same period. All but one of those tickets were written in Oklahoma City limits.
Oklahoma City does not have a municipal statute against traveling in the left lane. So while Oklahoma City police have jurisdiction over all roadways within city limits, officers do not enforce the new law on city highways, Capt. Bo Mathews said. But Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers do have the authority to enforce the law, even in the Oklahoma City limits.
Troopers in Canadian, Pottawatomie and Tulsa counties cited seven motorists each through Jan. 31, records show.
On the interstates
The largest number — 25 citations — were issued along Interstate 35 between Noble County in northern Oklahoma and Love County in the south. A total of 14 motorists were ticketed along Interstate 40 between Canadian and Pottawatomie counties. Eight drivers on Interstate 44 from Oklahoma to Tulsa counties were also cited, records show.
From Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, troopers also wrote 243 warnings, said trooper Dwight Durant.
"We write a lot of warnings," Durant said. "Every trooper has their own discretion. They're not under any direction to do either one."
He also said that number of citations is in line with the number of tickets versus warnings that troopers write for other infractions like speeding and following too closely.
Drivers are still expected to move into the left lane when passing an emergency vehicle and stranded motorists, Durant said.
Other reasons drivers might travel in the left lane includes traffic congestion, left turns and moving out of the way of drivers merging onto the highway.
"I wasn't even aware of (the new law)," Fields said. "That was called the fast lane; as far as I knew, and right lane was for the slower drivers."
The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.