Last updated: March 15, 2017
Cell, text messaging update: State Sen. Will Bond has proposed a trio of distracted driving bills for 2017. His SB 347, approved by the full Senate on March 13, hikes fines for texting & driving, and modernizes the existing texting law’s language. The other bills would add serious penalties for distracted drivers who injure or kill others. “We’re trying to bring to light how dangerous this conduct is,” Bond says.
Convictions under Arkansas’ texting & driving law are averaging about 300 per year, state records show. Jonesboro District Court had the most offenses followed by Conway District Court, the Democrat-Gazette reported in late January 2017. Fatalities statewide have increased about 17 percent in the past two years.
Arkansas has no restrictions on cell phone calling by adult drivers, but it regulates their use by drivers under the age of 21.
A law prohibiting use of handheld cell phones in school zones and highway work zones took effect Oct. 1, 2011.
- All drivers prohibited from text messaging and “wireless interactive communication” such as emailing, playing games and using the Internet. Hitting multiple keys in order to dial a phone number is being interpreted as an infraction. Fine up to $100.
- Drivers under 18 may not use cell phones, regardless of whether a hands-free accessory is employed. Fine up to $50.
- Drivers 18-20 must use hands-free attachments while talking on cell phones. Fine up to $50.
- School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving.
Distracted driving legislation (2017)
Senate Bill 374: Would increase penalties for texting & driving up to $250 (first offense) then $500. Fines doubled if wreck results from texting. Modernizes language of existing texting law. Adds social media. Approved by the Transportation Committee on March 1. Approved by the full Senate in a 21-4 vote of March 13. To the House. (Bond)
SB 144: Would establish additional penalties for drivers who cause injury, death or property damage while using wireless communications devices. First offense: $150 to $1,000; second, $400 to $3,000; third, $900 to $5,000. Plus 12-month license suspension. Amended by author twice in February. (Bond)
SB 145: Adds “engaging in wireless interactive communication” to elements of negligent homicide — texting, typing, accessing Internet on cell phone. (Bond)
Distracted driving news (2017)
State Sen. Will Bond says Arkansas isn’t ready for a handheld cell phone ban. “It’s just a difficult area,” he told the Democrat-Gazette after filing a pair of distracted driving bills that would toughen penalties for texting & driving (above).
2015 distracted driving legislation
House Bill 1373: Would bar all motorists from using handheld communications devices such as smartphones. Fines: $50 (first offense), $150 (second offense within two years) then $200 and one-year suspension of driver’s license. Teen restrictions on all handheld electronics to remain. Rejected by the House Transportation Committee in an 11-7 vote of Feb. 24. (Fielding)
2015 distracted driving news
A bid to stop handheld communications device use by all drivers in Arkansas fell short in a House Committee on Feb. 24. The legislation from state Rep. David Fielding went down to defeat in an 11-7 vote. Legislators voiced concerns about constituent anger over limiting cell phone use and “personal rights.” The bill might be revived, supporters said after the vote. The plan would have allowed police to stop and cite violators (primary enforcement) and came with fines from $50 to $200.
State Rep. Jana Della Rosa said she voted against the cell phone bill because, “I can tell you the folks in my district would not look kindly upon saying you’re not allowed to communicate with anyone when you’re in your car anymore.” The legislation would have allowed hands-free operation of cell phones, however.
2014 distracted driving news
The first meeting of the Central Arkansas Operation Impact Traffic Enforcement Group resulted in a late September crackdown on texting and driving. The “multi-agency cooperative” said: “If a driver has to hit more than one button in order to engage their wireless telephone and use it in a hands-free mode then they are guilty of engaging in wireless interactive communications while operating their vehicle.” The group said it “felt it was necessary to educate the motoring public as to the definition of what is considered texting under Arkansas law.”
A coalition of Central Arkansas law officers says distracted driving is the key issue affecting safety on the state’s roads and highways. The Central Arkansas Operation Impact Traffic Enforcement Group said in mid-September 2014: “All we are asking is that the motoring public be mindful of their driving, and if they have to answer or make that cell phone call or make or respond to that text message then pull over to the side of the road or in a parking lot.”
2013 distracted driving news
Distracted driving led to 17 deaths in Arkansas in 2012, officials say. About 200 crashes were linked to distracted drivers.
Senate Bill 154 (Act 37): Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones by drivers who are in a school zone or are passing by school buildings during school hours when children are present (outside). Also seeks to ban handheld cell phone use in a highway work zone when workers are present. Secondary enforcement. Approved by the Senate Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee on Jan. 31 and then by the full Senate on Feb. 2. Approved by the House in a 52-41 vote on Feb. 15 and sent to the governor as Act 37. Latest action: Signed into law by the governor on Feb. 19. Took effect Oct. 1, 2011. (Taylor)
House Bill 1049: Would prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones in school zones while children are present. Includes GPS. Secondary enforcement. First-time violators get a warning; $50 fines thereafter. Rejected by the House in a tight 46-47 vote on Jan. 31. Reconsidered, it was approved by the House on Feb. 1. Recommended by the Senate Transportation Committee but rejected by the full Senate. Revived again (March 16) but died April 27 as the Transportation Committee adjourned. (Allen)
2011 distracted driving notes:
SB 154’s sponsor was Sen. Jerry Taylor, D-Pine Bluff. Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock, introduced the bill in the House after failing to get approval for his similar HB 1049.
Just before the House rejected the HB 1049 plan to outlaw handheld cell phone use in school zones, opponents argued that the ban would inconvenience parents. “Have you ever waited for an hour in a long line of cars for your child or grandchild to come out of school?” asked Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista. Sponsor Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock, later noted that the bill called for secondary enforcement, so drivers stuck in a school pickup line would have to commit another offense in order to be cited. Police are “not going to pull you over just for talking on your cell phone,” Allen told reporters.
Rep. Allen says HB 1049 is “really a prevention bill.” (Allen co-sponsored HB 1013, below).
Sen. Taylor said he was puzzled by the House’s rejection of Allen’s school zone plan.
An Arkansas state senator dropped his plan to limit headphone use by bicyclists and pedestrians to one ear only, citing a barrage of citizen complaints. Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett, said Jan. 25, 2010, that he knew going in that the draft legislation wouldn’t succeed, but he wanted to raise the issue. He was inspired by a Little Rock accident.
The city of Rogers already bans cell phones and text messaging in its school zones, with primary enforcement.
HB 1013, from Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro, bans text messaging by all drivers. Approved by the Senate and House, and signed into law by the governor (as Act 181).
SB 28, from Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, bans drivers under 18 years old from using cell phones. Drivers 18-21 may use cell phones with hands-free devices. Passed by the Senate and the House, and signed into law by the Arkansas governor (as Act 247).
HB 1119, from Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, would prohibit wireless telephone use by drivers under the age of 18. Under the proposed law, drivers 18 to 20 years old must use hands-free accessories when making calls and cannot engage in “interactive communication” via electronic devices (text messaging and typing). Sent to the governor’s office on Feb. 18. The teenage driving bill was approved in the House, the Senate Transportation Committee, the full Arkansas Senate and signed into law by the governor (as Act 197)
SB 31, also from Sen. Hendren, would require drivers to use hands-free accessories while using cell phones. (Does not include texting.) To the full Senate.
Cell phone, text messaging legislation notes (pre-2010):
The number of tickets written under the new texting while driving ban appears to be relatively small, according to Arkansas media reports. Fayetteville reports 13 tickets from October 2009 to February 2010.
Arkansas police say that in 2008, at least 787 auto crashes involved drivers using electronic devices.
Rep. Kidd’s text-messaging legislation HB 1013 originally included a cell phone ban, but he revised it to make passage more likely. “Some law is better than no law,” Kidd told House members. It has been approved and sent to the governor.
HB 1013 is dubbed “Paul’s Law.” Kidd filed it at the request of a young woman whose father was killed by a text-messaging driver. Violations would be considered primary offenses with fines of $100.
Rep. Kerr’s limits on wireless communications by drivers under 21 were approved by the the House Public Transportation Committee and sent to the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs on Jan. 28, 2009.
Sen. Hendren’s hands-free cellular device legislation (SB 31) and ban on cell phone use by teenage drivers (SB 28) also cleared the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs.
Two bills by state Sen. Kim Hendren failed in the 2007 Arkansas legislative session. They would have required hands-free devices and prohibited teenage drivers from using cell phones.
Hendren has filed hands-free bills dating back to 2001. He has said he knows a woman whose son was killed by a driver using a cell phone.
Arkansas State Police started tracking cell phone roles in accidents in 2007.