Arkansas committee advances bills to limit driver distractions

| 2/3/2009

Multiple bills on the move in the Arkansas statehouse address one of the pet peeves of professional drivers – focusing on anything other than the road.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to move along to the full Senate that would ban text messaging while driving – for all drivers. The House approved it in January.

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro, the bill – HB1013 – originally included a provision to prohibit all cell phone use while at the wheel. He removed the provision to help get the bill approved.

A related measure also advancing from the Senate committee on a 5-2 vote targets cell phone use by the state’s youngest drivers. Sponsored by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, the bill – HB1119 – would prohibit drivers under 18 from using cell phones, including hands-free devices. Drivers 18 to 20 years old would be limited to hands-free devices.

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

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

Kerr’s bill also next moves to the Senate floor. The House already approved it.

Another bill on its way to the chamber floor via the Senate Committee would prohibit drivers under 18 from the use of any mobile device while behind the wheel. Sponsored by Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, SB28 would allow drivers stopped for another offense who are found to be in violation of the proposed rule to 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 from 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.

A current poll on the Land Line Web site shows how truckers view the issue of driver distractions. Almost half, or 45 percent, of the respondents say that states should focus their efforts on banning hand-held phones while allowing drivers to continue to use hands-free devices. Following closely behind, 41 percent of voters say lawmakers should quit trying to legislate everything people do. A far smaller number – 11 percent – say no one should use their cell phones or send text messages while driving. Only about 2 percent say restrictions should be focused on the youngest drivers.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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