We asked you politely. The Legislature told you. Now the state police are going to make sure you listened.
A safety campaign underway through Tuesday, “U Drive. You Text. U Pay.,” emphasizes the teeth in legislation to stop drivers from texting while driving, according to a report from the Arkansas News Bureau.
The Arkansas State Police and other law enforcement agencies will have extra patrols watching for violators.
Don’t think you’re OK to text if you’re headed out of state; the Arkansas program is part of a nationwide effort funded in part and promoted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
But since most of us do most of our driving in the state, it’s worth reviewing the law here.
Arkansas law prohibits any driver of any age from texting while driving. Doing so is a primary offense, meaning the police don’t need any other reason to pull you over than texting. Fines can be as high as $100, according to the bureau report.
State law also prohibits any driver from using hand-held cell phones while traveling through a school zone or highway work zone. In other words, get off the phone if you’re on Interstate 530 in the construction zone.
Drivers younger than 18 aren’t allowed to use a cell phone at all while driving. Drivers 18-20 must use a hands-free device if they use a cell phone while driving. Fines can be as high as $50 and can be doubled in a work zone when workers are present.
Of course, $50 and $100 are really nothing compared to the heartbreak and loss of the unthinkable, a texting-caused accident that results in injury or death.
Any type of distracted driving, like eating or drinking, playing with the radio, yelling at the kids or fussing with a navigation system, can put driver, passengers and others outside the car at risk.
But texting gets the lion’s share of attention because it distracts the driver in so many ways at once, occupying eyes, hands and thoughts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
At any given daylight moment, according to research by the NHTSA, 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
And consider these other facts from NHTSA:
• When you text, on average your eyes are off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s equivalent to traveling the distance of a football field — blindfolded.
• When your eyes and hands are engaged in something other than driving, like reaching for a phone or dialing or fiddling with the GPS, you are three times more likely to get into a crash than when you are paying attention to the road.
• A quarter of teens will respond to at least one text message every time they drive. What’s worse, 20 percent of teens — and 10 percent of their parents — admit they have had extended text exchanges while driving.
No matter your age or your own habits, you are sharing the road with a scary lot of drivers with bad habits.
So don’t think about the fines. Think about the terrible drivers out there who share space with you. That should make you realize how vitally your continued health depends on your defensive, thoughtful, undistracted driving.