July 18, 2022

As I came out of our subdivision toward the main road of our town last week, I noticed a car sitting in the entrance of the sandwich shop.  There were three local police cars and about six officers milling around in the parking lot.  At first, I did not pay much notice as this was a common lunch destination for the local police.  Then I noticed several other people milling around in the lot as well.  As I approached the intersection, I noticed the looky-loos were slowing down to look at what was happening.  Since the lot was at the stop sign that I took to turn into town, I was able to “legitimately” stop and look at the action.  It turned out the car was not just stopped at the entrance.  The front bumper and grill plate had been torn off and was lying about a yard (1 meter) in front of the vehicle.  It made me wonder how distracted you need to be to sit in a lot with your front end sticking out onto the highway while another car is bearing down on your vehicle.

When I looked online, I found distracted driving accounts for 421,000 injuries and 3,000 fatalities each year.  At any given moment there are an average of 600,000 US drivers talking on phones, texting, or using electronic devices while driving.  Texting is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous activities as it involves all three types of distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive.  While the average text message takes less than 5 seconds to type and send, Distraction.gov states this is sufficient time for your vehicle to have traveled the length of a football field at 55 mph (88 kph).  When you take your eyes off the road to read or send a text, it is as if you have gone that distance blindfolded.  To reduce distracted driving as the result of cell phones many states have laws to regulate cell phone use while driving.

In Arkansas, using your phone to text, look up information on the internet, or check social media while driving is illegal and carries fines from $25 to $500.  The wide range of fines is provided to give law enforcement officers a lot of latitude when assigning fines, and second offenses are generally doubled.  You fine could also be doubled if the violation caused a collision.  Rules for cell phone use vary based on location and age.  Under Arkansas law, wireless interactive communication while driving is banned for all drivers.  While texting is banned, you can talk on a cell phone while driving unless you are driving through a school or work zone.  You can still use you phone in these areas if you are in hands-free mode.  In most cases, Arkansas’ texting and driving law is a primary law, which means the police can pull you over just for violating that rule.  However, restrictions on cell phone use in school and work zones are secondary laws.  In other words, you cannot be pulled over for talking on the phone in a work zone unless you were committing another violation.

Thoughts:  When a driver ahead of me is acting erratic my first thought is always, “get off the phone!”  Nearly every time as I pass, I see the person is indeed talking or texting on their phone.  While we know how easy it is to be distracted by a cell phone, research says the most common distraction is getting “lost in thought.”  When a driver’s mind drifts away from the task of driving it can result in an accident, and daydreaming accounts for a significant percentage of distracted driving fatalities.  Perhaps we should have paid more attention when the driving instructor tried to teach us to keep our hands at “ten and two”.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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