A dangerous and escalating trend in the number of aggressive driving violations on the state’s highways has Arkansas State Troopers turning to an improved tool to curb the deadly threats.
Twenty-five new low profile highway patrol vehicles have been acquired by the Arkansas State Police to bolster the attack against incidents of aggressive and distracted driving. The black Chevrolet Tahoes are partially marked with the state police insignia visible only from the passenger side, but fully equipped to conduct traffic stops.
“Putting state troopers in non-conventional patrol vehicles to blend unnoticed in traffic is nothing new; we’ve been doing it more than 20 years,” said Colonel Bill Bryant, Director of the Arkansas State Police. “What’s new today is the use of a taller vehicle platform like the Tahoe that will offer troopers an improved visual perspective to detect drivers violating distracted driving laws or spotting a vehicle being driven in an aggressive manner that threatens other motorist’s safety.”
During calendar year 2020 there were 641 Arkansas deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes, a 27% increase over the previous year. The number of highway crash deaths has already surpassed 400 this year.
Colonel Bryant testified before a General Assembly sub-committee earlier this summer that Arkansas has not escaped a national epidemic of lawlessness on the nation’s highways. He told the legislators, “. . . law abiding Arkansas motorists are finding themselves confronted with new threats on the highways and more frequently than ever before.”
Last year Arkansas troopers stopped 2,030 drivers who were traveling at 100 miles per hour, or faster, an increase of more than 100 percent from 2019 among violators exceeding the 100 miles per hour speed.
The three digit speed violations in 2021 have already surpassed all last year with troopers issuing 2,381 tickets to violators between January – June this year for speeds between 100 – 160 miles per hour.
Cumulatively this year (*January – August) state troopers have issued 52,593 citations for various speeding and dangerous or aggressive driving type violations.
The anomaly of faster speeding violations has been compounded by a brazen spike in incidences of drivers refusing to stop when state troopers attempt to initiate traffic stops. Over the past five years troopers in Arkansas have documented a 98 percent increase in pursuits involving drivers who choose to flee rather than pull-over for the initial violation. In the metropolitan Little Rock/Central Arkansas area pursuits are up 170 percent since 2016.
Colonel Bryant told legislators, “When a driver makes the conscious choice to flee from law enforcement they increase their speed, drive erratically, weave in and out of traffic, passing other vehicles on the highway shoulder; they’re putting innocent lives at risk for no reason other than they refuse stop for the initial traffic violation.”
The danger on Arkansas highways is not just limited to speeding violations and aggressive driving but also incidents of gunfire directed at vehicles and occupants. The state police Criminal Investigation Division has 21 open cases currently under investigation with at least two of the cases involving the deaths of three individuals.
Distracted driving violations continue to pose a danger for motorists on state highways with troopers already issuing more than 800 violator citations this year.
Using a phone or other device to send text messages or post social media comments while driving is one of the leading causes of distracted driving and is a violation of Arkansas law.
“Statistically, teenage drivers are the most common violators, but middle age adults aren’t far behind,” commented Major Forrest Marks, commander of the state police Highway Patrol Division, Western Region.
Troopers assigned to the low profile patrols will additionally be watching for drivers who illegally use the left lane of a multi-lane highway. Arkansas law was amended this year to prohibit drivers from using the left lane of a multi-lane highway except when passing other traffic. Presently troopers are issuing warnings to violators while drivers acclimate themselves to the change. In the coming days troopers will transition to strict enforcement of the new law and begin issuing violator citations.
“Every highway patrol troop will have the low profile marked Tahoes and we hope the use of the special patrol vehicles throughout the state will be a deterrent to the growing threat caused by drivers who choose to ignore the law and safety of others”, said Major Jason Aaron, commander of the Highway Patrol Division, Eastern Region. “If a trooper can stop just one of these dangerous drivers before killing an innocent motorist, the new tool we have in our patrol fleet will have been worth it.”
The recognizable white sedan with blue stripes and state police markings will continue to be the mainstay of the ASP highway patrol fleet with aerial observation from two aircraft flying in support over the highways.
The low profile vehicles will be assigned to each of the twelve highway patrol troops across the state. The new low profile patrol vehicles and law enforcement equipment installed in the vehicles were purchased with federal grant money totaling $1.15 million provided by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.