2011 Legislative Preview: HB 1049

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Bill Name: AN ACT TO IMPROVE THE SAFETY OF HIGHWAYS AND ROADS BY PROHIBITING WIRELESS TELEPHONE USE IN SCHOOL ZONES

Sponsor: Fred Allen (D-33), 501-225-4979, FredAllen99@comcast.net

Purpose: To prohibit any “Wireless interactive communication” (talking, typing, emailing, or accessing information on the internet) while driving a vehicle in a school zone.

Pros for Average Arkansans: Safety. Look, I’m not a huge fan of bland prohibitions like this generally, but this one seems like a good idea. For one thing, let’s be real honest, Arkansans by and large — even those NOT on a phone — drive terribly. [Tangent: All of your cars have turn signals. Maybe you could use them from time to time.] Throw in a cell phone or, worse, someone trying to text and drive, and you can see where the danger of running over Little Johnny Jones goes way up. Plus, this law (a) prohibits a cop from stopping you solely to make sure you’re not breaking this rule and (b) would only be a violation, and thus punishable by fine only, under Ark. Code Ann. 5-1-108.

Cons for Average Arkansans: First, there’s a glaring hole in the bill that allows the use of hands-free devices. If your goal is better safety in schools zone via less-distracted drivers, this loophole is a problem. Numerous studies have shown that hands-free chatting is no safer than holding the phone to your ear. See, e.g., here.

Second, and much more attenuated, as with all new criminal prohibitions, I worry that this violation could be used as a basis to revoke probation/parole on some individuals. Yes, that’s probably a minor concern, but with Arkansas’s prison problems, it’s always worth noting as a possibility.

Recommendation: Remove the exception for hands-free devices.

Official BHR Position: Support, with recommendations.

(Note: This bill passed out of the House Transportation Committee today.)