Driving in Oklahoma
More than just the wind comes sweeping down the plain in Oklahoma. Driving through the Sooner State can take you from bustling modern cities to wide-open plains, past mountains, mesas, and prairies, and through historic small towns on the Mother Road – U.S. Route 66.
But just because driving in Oklahoma can offer idyllic views doesn't mean drivers should ignore the potential hazards of getting behind the wheel. There are unique challenges facing any driver who ventures out in Oklahoma, and understanding what to expect can help you to make the best decisions to stay safe on the road.
Here's everything you need to know about the state of driving in the Sooner State:
Oklahoma Car Insurance Options
Drivers in Oklahoma are legally required to carry, at minimum, liability insurance that will cover:
- $25,000 for injury/death to one person per accident
- $50,000 for injury/death to more than one person per accident
- $20,000 for damage to property per accident
Drivers caught without insurance face some relatively severe penalties, which include a fine of up to $250, 30 days in jail, and suspension of driver's license and/or vehicle registration. There is an excellent reason for these steep penalties. Oklahoma leads the nation in uninsured motorists, with 10.5 percent of drivers going uninsured in 2015.
Although Oklahoma's laws do not require drivers to carry uninsured motorist insurance, the fact that more than 1 in 10 drivers have no insurance means that it is prudent to include this coverage in your automobile insurance policy.
Pickup Trucks, Off-Roading, and Route 66: Car Culture in Oklahoma
According to John Nardini, who lived in Mustang, Oklahoma, just southwest of Oklahoma City, "The car culture in Oklahoma is a truck culture. There were far more trucks on the road than anywhere we'd ever lived. It seemed like every other vehicle was a Ford F-150 or a Dodge Ram!" As an agricultural state, it's perfectly natural that pickup trucks are common in Oklahoma, but they also help to support another aspect of Oklahoma vehicle culture: off-roading.
Shannon Cowen, who lives in Wilburton, writes: "Going 4x4ing in the mud and mountains is the favorite pastime of teenagers of driving age around here." Considering the fact that Oklahoma is home to the country's most diverse terrain, it's no wonder that 4x4s, ATVs, Dune buggies, and other off-roading vehicles are so popular. And pickup trucks with trailer hitches make it possible for Oklahomans to haul their off-road vehicles whenever they want to indulge in their favorite muddy hobby.
For those who prefer to keep their wheels on asphalt, the 400 miles of the iconic U.S. Route 66 that winds throughout Oklahoma offers another important aspect of car culture in the state. Not only does Oklahoma bill itself as the Land of the Ultimate Road Trip on the basis of the myriad attractions on Route 66 throughout the state, but it is also home to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, where visitors can learn about the importance of the car in the state's history.
Bustling City Streets and Rural Prairie Roads
Urban driving and rural driving in Oklahoma share one thing in common: the feeling of wide open spaces. According to Nardini, "Oklahoma City is huge. It's one of the largest cities in land mass, and has a criss-crossed series of interstate roads all around it. On some interstates surrounding the city, it seemed like there were stretches where absolutely nothing was going on for as far as the eye could see."
Enjoying the feeling of the open road – on urban streets or rural byways – can be an issue of safety, however. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that rural roads are more dangerous for drivers than their urban counterparts. The rate of car crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled is 2.6 times higher in rural areas compared to urban areas across the country. Though there is more congestion, and therefore more opportunity for accidents in cities, accidents in urban areas tend to be more survivable than those in rural areas, because of the lower speed limits in cities and the closer proximity to emergency help.
Oklahoma's traffic fatality statistics bear this out. Though only 42.9 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in Oklahoma in 2015 were on rural roads, 391 deaths out of a total of 643 fatal crashes that year – nearly 63 percent – occurred on rural roads.
Despite these troubling statistics, there is some good news for Oklahomans: the Sooner State is the land of polite drivers. Cowen writes "I have never experienced road rage or seen many traffic accidents here. Driving in this part of the world is by far easier and more pleasant than anywhere else I've driven. I cannot stress enough how courteous drivers are in this part of the country."
Racking Up the Miles
The average American drives 13,476 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. This department compiles such information each year, and in 2014 – the most recent year for which we have the data – Oklahomans blew away the American average by over 5,000 miles, logging an impressive average of 18,891 miles on their vehicles.
Considering the wide open spaces for which Oklahoma is known, it's perfectly understandable why the average driver puts more mileage on the odometer. However, there is a cost associated with those additional vehicle miles. The increased mileage means drivers will have to perform more regular and irregular maintenance to keep their cars and trucks purring. The financial blog My Money Design has calculated that this sort of maintenance can cost drivers approximately $0.26/mile. That means the average Oklahoman is paying $4,912 per year in vehicle maintenance, as compared to the national average of $3,574.
That's not the only bad financial news for drivers in the Sooner State. Poor roads throughout the state also lead to higher maintenance costs. As of 2015, The Washington Post reports that a whopping 38 percent of Oklahoma roads are rated as poor, meaning "they have so many major ruts, cracks and potholes that they can't simply be resurfaced – they need to be completely rebuilt."
Driving on such rutted and cracked roads is bad for your car – Oklahoma drivers can expect to pay $763 per year in extra vehicle upkeep costs on top of the maintenance costs related to higher mileage.
Cost of a Fill-Up
There is one driving cost that is lower for Oklahomans: gas prices in the state are among the lowest in the country. As of April 6, 2018, the average national price for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.662 per gallon according to AAA. In Oklahoma, the average price is $2.414 per gallon.
Though that difference between the national average and Oklahoma's average may feel modest, drivers in Oklahoma certainly appreciate the savings. According to Cowen, "I often travel to Texas, and gasoline is always cheaper here than it is in parts of Texas – sometimes as much as 50 cents per gallon cheaper!"
The Unemployment Rate
The rate of employment in Oklahoma may seem unrelated to the driving behavior of its residents, but there is an important relationship between them. As the unemployment rate in a state goes up, the number of drivers on the road goes down. This is partially because employed citizens generally need to commute to work, but also due to the fact that higher employment also signals higher disposable income, which also leads to more driving.
As of March 2018, the national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent. Oklahoma's unemployment rate as of February 2018 was the same as the national rate placing it as 25th in unemployment in the nation. The relatively low unemployment rate may mean more cars on the road during rush hour – although the average Oklahoman has a relatively easy commute in any case. According to the 2014 Census Bureau American Community Survey, the average Oklahoma commute is only 21 minutes each way, a good four minutes shorter than the national average.
Cell phones may have revolutionized the way we work, play, and communicate, but they have also become the source of a major driving hazard: distracted driving. According to Distraction.gov, in 2015, 3,477 people were killed and another 391,000 were injured nationally in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, while Oklahoma saw 23 deaths and 2,303 injuries that year in distraction-related crashes.
Oklahoma is actively working to reduce distracted-driving related accidents through several new laws. As of 2015, texting while driving is illegal, and any driver caught violating the law is subject to a $100 fine. Teen drivers are already banned from handheld cell phone use, as are school and public transit bus drivers.
Oklahoma has also aimed programming at teenagers to combat the problem of distracted driving. This program, known as the Oklahoma Challenge, asks students to commit to putting away their cell phones while driving.
Encouraging novice drivers to take the Oklahoma Challenge is just one of the ways that the state works to keep teenagers safe behind the wheel. In addition to anti-distracted driving programs, teenagers also need supervision and support to learn the complex skills necessary for driving safety.
This is why Oklahoma uses a graduated licensing program for new drivers. Before qualifying for a full license, Oklahoma teenagers must first go through the following steps:
- Learner Permit – At age 15 1/2, teens who have taken a driver education course may apply for a learner permit. Without the driver education course, teens must wait until age 16 to apply for the leaner permit. The learner permit allows teens to drive with a licensed adult driver seated in the front passenger seat. On this permit, teens must complete at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice – including at least 10 hours at night.
- Intermediate License – On reaching age 16, teens who have held a learner permit for at least six months may apply for an intermediate license, which includes a driving test. Teens who have not taken driver education will not be eligible for an intermediate until at least age 16 1/2. Teens with an intermediate license may not drive between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. In addition, teens may either only have one passenger, or only have passengers who live in the teen's home, or have any number of passengers if supervised by a licensed adult driver.
- Full License – As of age 16 1/2, teens who have held an intermediate license for at least six months without receiving any traffic convictions may obtain an unrestricted Class D Oklahoma Driver's License. A teen who has not taken driver education is not eligible for this full license until at least age 17.
The State of Driving in Oklahoma
The wide open road in Oklahoma offers drivers unparalleled views, historic sites, and friendly people. But driving in the Sooner State can also offer unique challenges and hazards, and it pays to know what they are before you get behind the wheel. That way you can make the best and safest decisions on the road.