The Tell-Tale Signs and Consequences of Distracted Driving

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

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 6, 2023

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There are many types of distractions while driving—eating, changing the radio station or navigation system, combing your hair, or using a cell phone. Distracted driving involves anything that takes the driver’s attention from the road.

The effects of distracted driving are serious. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,522 car accident fatalities involving distracted drivers in 2021 alone.

In an effort to curb these behaviors and increase safe driving for all on the road, most states have enacted distracted driving laws and are stepping up law enforcement.

Arkansas’s Texting While Driving Laws

The NHTSA estimates 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 to the dangers of distracted driving, 26 states have banned all hand-held cell phone use by motorists.

Ban on Texting and Driving

In 2009, Arkansas enacted “Paul’s Law,” banning texting and driving on Arkansas roads. The law was named for a father of three who was killed by a driver sending a text message.

  • Drivers over 18 but under 21 years of age may not use hand-held phones
  • Teen drivers under 18 and school bus drivers may not use cell phones at all while driving except in an emergency.
  • Use of cell phones is prohibited in school and highway work zones.

Ban on Posting to Social Media While Driving

In 2017, lawmakers updated Arkansas’s texting law to add some teeth and make it clear that posting to social media apps while driving was not an accepted activity under the law.

The language now prohibits the 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:

  • A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $250 (previously only a warning).
  • Each subsequent offense is 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:

  • Sleep researchers have 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.
  • While exact numbers are difficult to pin down, the NHTSA estimates that in 2017 alone, 91,000 car crashes involved drowsy drivers, while driver fatigue contributed to as many as 684 fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2021.

Arkansas is one of the few states to criminalize this type of impaired driving. State law makes drowsy driving 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.

Hurdles to Proving Drowsy Driving Charges

While many believe that enacting criminal penalties for sleep-deprived driving will help raise awareness and prevention efforts, prosecution remains limited due to proof issues.

The driver is usually the only person 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.

Detecting Drowsy Driving

The National Sleep Foundation states that fatigue-related accidents are most common in young men, adults with small children, and shift workers. Tell-tale signs that you are too drowsy to drive include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Heavy eyelids, frequent yawning
  • Missed road signs or exits
  • Feeling restless or irritable

Find an Experienced Attorney

If you need more information about distracted or drowsy driving defense, consider using the Super Lawyers directory to contact an Arkansas criminal defense attorney with experience in traffic violations. A criminal defense lawyer will understand Arkansas’s laws and court procedures and give you legal advice at every stage.

If you’re considering a civil lawsuit to recover damages arising from a distracted or drowsy driving accident, consider contacting an Arkansas personal injury attorney. Many personal injury lawyers provide free consultations to learn more about your case.

For more information about this legal area, see our overview of traffic violations law.

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