Driven to Distraction

The laws and penalties for driving while texting and drowsy driving in Arkansas

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Eating, fiddling with the stereo or GPS, putting on makeup, and using a cell phone while driving are all considered forms of distracted driving by the National Highway Safety Administration. It’s essentially anything that takes one’s attention from the road. The NHSA reports that in 2015, 391,000 injuries and nearly 3,500 deaths in the U.S. involved distracted drivers. In an effort to curb these behaviors and increase safety for all on the road, most states have enacted distracted driving laws and are stepping up enforcement.
 
Texting While Driving
It has been estimated that reading or sending a text takes one’s eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. In response, 14 states have banned all hand-held cell phone use by drivers. In 2009, Arkansas enacted “Paul’s Law,” banning texting for all drivers on Arkansas roads. The law was named for a father of three who was killed by a driver sending a text message. In addition, drivers over 18 but under 21 years of age may not use hand-held phones, and those under 18 and school bus drivers may not use cell phones at all while driving, except in an emergency. Further, use of hand-held cell phones is prohibited in school and highway work zones.
 
In 2017, Arkansas’ texting law was updated to add some teeth and make it clear that posting to social media while driving was not an accepted activity under the law. The language now prohibits use of any “wireless communications device while operating a motor vehicle” to write, send, read or access a message or social networking site. It is expressly permitted, however, to enter a phone number to make a call, or to use a phone’s GPS navigation. The 2017 change also increases penalties significantly, making a first offense punishable by a fine of up to $250 (previously only a warning), and each subsequent offense subject to fines of up to $500. If you’re in an accident and found to have been using a wireless device at the time, this will be included in the accident report, and you’ll be assessed double the usual fine.
 
Sleep-Deprived Driving
Arkansas has also taken steps to address another threat to road safety, a condition dubbed “drowsy driving.” Studies and highway safety statistics have long demonstrated that driving in a state of extreme fatigue has parallels to drunk driving. Research found that not sleeping for 20 hours or more causes cognitive and motor impairments comparable to a blood alcohol content between 0.05 percent and 0.1 percent. Estimates are that fatigue contributes to as many as 1.2 million crashes per year.
 
To date, Arkansas is one of only two states to criminalize this type of impaired driving, making it a form of negligent homicide if a driver caused a fatality after going 24 hours or more without sleep. Fatigue may also be used to demonstrate negligence in civil actions arising from accidents that resulted in injuries.
 
While many believe that enacting criminal penalties for sleep-deprived driving will help to raise awareness and fuel prevention efforts, prosecution remains somewhat limited, due to virtually insurmountable proof issues. The driver is typically the only one to know how long they’ve been awake, and unlike a blood alcohol test for drinking, there is no way to test someone’s level of fatigue.
 
The National Sleep Foundation states that fatigue-related accidents are most common in young men, adults with small children, and shift workers. Warning signs that you are too drowsy to drive include:
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Heavy eyelids, frequent yawning
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Memory lapses, missed road signs or exits
  • Feeling restless or irritable
If you need more information about distracted or drowsy driving defense, contact an Arkansas DUI attorney. If you’re considering initiating a civil claim arising from a distracted or drowsy driving accident, consider contacting an Arkansas personal injury attorney

Arkansas

Sending a single text at 55 miles per hour is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed, and driving without sleeping for 24 hours can parallel drunken driving.

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