Arkansas legislation seeks to curb cell phone use

| 1/16/2009

Two Arkansas state lawmakers have offered bills for consideration during the session that started Monday, Jan. 12. The bills address one of the pet peeves of professional drivers – chatting on the phone while driving.

Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro, prefiled a bill that would ban – for all drivers – hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted.

Another provision in the bill – HB1013 – would specifically ban text messaging while at the wheel.

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

An exception would be made for emergency calls. Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios also are exempted.

Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, offered a similar bill – SB31 – that doesn’t include the text messaging provision. Also, it would make violations a secondary offense.

Hendren also prefiled a measure – SB28 – that focuses solely on novice drivers. The effort targets drivers under age 18 and would prohibit the use of any mobile device while behind the wheel.

Young drivers stopped for another offense who are found to be in violation of the proposed rule would get off with a warning. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

Efforts to curb the practice of using electronic wireless devices, such as a Blackberry-type device, while driving have picked up steam across the country following the National Safety Council’s call for all states to ban drivers from all cell phone usage.

Currently, more than a dozen states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers using hand-held phones. With the exception of New York, each of these states also prohibits text messaging. Alaska, Louisiana and Minnesota have their own text messaging bans.

The bills in Arkansas are in their respective transportation committees.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor