Arkansas laws to limit driver distractions take effect Oct. 1

| 9/28/2009

Multiple laws that take effect the first of the month in Arkansas address one of the pet peeves of professional drivers: focusing on anything other than the road.

Starting Thursday, Oct. 1, sending text messages while driving in the state will be forbidden for all drivers. In addition, drivers under 18 will be prohibited from using cell phones, including hands-free devices. Drivers 18 to 20 years old will be limited to hands-free devices.

Violations of the texting ban will be a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could pull over drivers solely for using communication devices. Offenders would face fines up to $100.

Exceptions will be made for emergency calls. Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios also are exempted.

The new rule prohibiting drivers under age 18 from the use of any mobile device would need to be stopped for another reason. Even then, they will get off with a warning. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

Efforts to curb the practice of using electronic wireless devices while driving have picked up steam across the country in recent months.

New York recently became the 18th state to outlaw the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a work out. More than a dozen states have acted this year alone with bans in Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire slated to take effect Jan. 1.

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has already fueled increased interest in efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

The researchers studied truck drivers for 18 months to come up with their findings. But the results generally applied to all drivers.

The findings have energized lawmakers in states that include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma to pursue legislation during their 2010 sessions to adopt texting bans. More efforts are anticipated as Congress could get involved.

Meanwhile, as Arkansas readies for its ban on electronic devices the state’s Highway and Transportation Department has started using Twitter to give truckers and others a heads-up about highway conditions throughout the state.

“Using Twitter will allow the department another way to deliver information quickly and efficiently,” state Highway Director Dan Flowers said in a statement. Travelers are encouraged to check the site before getting behind the wheel.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Arkansas in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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