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Tougher penalty needed for law

A woman in the drive-through lane of a White Hall fast food restaurant hit the rear of the car in front of her Sunday afternoon while texting on her cell phone. She appeared oblivious to her surroundings.

Apparently the possibility of a $100 fine for texting and driving is not much of a deterrent. A South Arkansas lawmaker might get her attention if the fine is doubled or tripled.

Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia, wants to discuss increasing the severity of the penalty during the 2013 legislative session. He wants to know if the 2009 law is adequately being enforced or whether police should be more aggressive in enforcement.

The lawmaker’s is considering a penalty comparable to intoxicants. A first offense DWI in Arkansas is punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

While texting and driving is a primary offense, meaning police can stop a driver solely for texting while behind the wheel, a check of court citations indicates the law is not heavily enforced since it took effect in October 2009.

State troopers have issued 185 warnings to drivers for texting and driving since the law took effect, but the agency does not maintain a record of how many court citations had been issued.

“I mean the only way you can really get punished for texting is if you actually kill someone,” Fielding said in frustration.

Act 181 of 2009 prohibits drivers in Arkansas from texting or sending email from handheld devices while driving. The legislation is referred to as “Paul’s Law,” after Paul Davidson of Jonesboro. The father of three was killed in a head-on crash with a driver who was typing a text message.

The driver of the car that hit Davidson committed suicide before going to trial. Two lives were lost that night over a text message.