Police & Fire

State, local police stepping up enforcement of distracted driving laws

Distracted driving continues to be one of the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes along nationwide roadways.  The Arkansas State Police Highway Safety Office is working with state and local law enforcement agencies to encourage drivers to put down their phones while driving.

Stepped-up enforcement of the state’s distracted driving laws is being planned for April 4-11 that will involve Arkansas State Troopers, local sheriff’s departments and local police officers. The operation will target drivers who are texting and driving as well as violating other distracted driving laws.

The Arkadelphia Police Department has a “strict, zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to distracted driving in school zones, said Police Chief Jason “Shorty” Jackson. “Distracted driving endangers us all,” he told The Arkadelphian, “and I remind everyone that especially around the school zones we have a strict zero-tolerance policy.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], between 2012 and 2019, more than 26,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver.  While fatalities from motor vehicle crashes decreased slightly from 2018 to 2019, distraction-related fatalities increased by 10 percent.  The statistical analysis from NHTSA also reported that the number of deaths linked to driver distraction was 3,142 nationwide, or almost 9% of all fatalities during 2019, a 10% increase over the previous year 2018, or 284 more fatalities. The distraction figure was the largest increase in causes of traffic deaths reported for 2019.

Millennials and Generation Z are the most distracted drivers, often using their cell phones to talk, text, and scroll through social media while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  According to NHTSA research from 2017, young drivers, 16 to 24 years of age, have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007.  During 2019, 9% of people killed in crashes involving teenagers (15 to 19 years of age) died when the teen drivers were distracted at the time of the crash.

“Distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes on Arkansas roadways,” said Colonel Bill Bryant, Director of the Arkansas State Police and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative.  “Drivers know it’s against the law, yet the distractions are significantly attributed to texting while driving.”

  Many drivers are guilty of a “double standard” when it comes to distracted driving.  In its 2018 Traffic Safety Culture Index, the American Automobile Association reported that while nearly 96% of drivers believed it was very or extremely dangerous to read a text or email while driving, 4 out of 10 drivers admitted to doing so within the previous 30 days.

“These drivers give themselves a personal exemption to ignore the law while unfairly putting others at risk,” Colonel Bryant commented. “Beginning April 4th state troopers won’t be issuing warnings, they’ll be writing violator citations as part of the U Text and Drive, You Pay enforcement operation.”

The Arkansas Highway Safety Office and NHTSA urge drivers to put their phones away when behind the wheel.  If you need to text, pull over to a safe location.  Drivers are encouraged to follow these suggestions to ensure a safe driving experience:

•  If you are expecting a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location.  Only after you are off the roadway and stopped is it safe to text.

•  Ask your passenger to be a “designated texter.”  Allow the passenger access to your phone for responding to calls or messages.

•  Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.

•  Cell phone use while driving can easily become a habit.  Consider activating your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” feature while driving, or put the phone in the trunk, glove compartment, or back seat of the vehicle until arriving at your destination.

Texting while driving is dangerous and illegal.  Help break the dangerous habit of distracted driving.  Remember: U Drive. U Text. U Pay.

For more information, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/distracted-driving or call the Arkansas Highway Safety Office at (501) 618-8136. Also learn more about Arkansas’ ongoing Toward Zero Deaths campaign to eliminate preventable traffic fatalities, visit www.TZDArkansas.org

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