Bridget White - Highway Safety Office

(501) 618-8356 bridget.white@asp.arkansas.gov

APRIL 1, 2021

Distracted driving is on the rise and leaving a deadly wake across the nation’s roads and highways. Beginning next week Arkansas law enforcement officers will join other police and sheriff’s authorities across the nation to stop drivers who exhibit the telltale signs of driving while distracted.

A nationwide stepped-up enforcement operation begins April 5th and continues through the following Monday (April 12th). The U Drive. U Text. U Pay is an annual high visibility effort led by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Using a phone or other device to send text messages or post social media comments are among the leading causes of distracted driving and a violation of Arkansas law. However, anything that might cause a driver to take their eyes off the road and veer into another traffic lane or off the roadway could result in a traffic stop by a law enforcement officer.

During an eight year span between 2012 – 2019, NHTSA officials reported 26,004 people died in motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted drivers. While motor vehicle crash fatalities nationally decreased slightly during 2019, there was a 10 percent increase in crashes involving drivers who had been distracted. Nine percent of all traffic fatalities were linked to distracted driving. The figures represent a 10% increase, 284 deaths, over the previous year and accounts for the largest increase among contributing factors in traffic crash deaths reported.

“Typing a text message or reading one while driving and all the other distractions occurring inside a moving vehicle have become lifestyle practices leading to life threatening consequences,” said Colonel Bill Bryant, Director of the Arkansas State Police and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “A driver taking their eyes off the road for five seconds while traveling at 55 miles per hour covers the length of a football field,” Colonel Bryant stated. “The time and distance factors create a deadly formula, leaving a driver with little if any time to safely avoid a collision.”

Colonel Bryant has pledged the concerted effort of every Arkansas State Trooper patrolling the highways to take enforcement action when they witness distracted driving violations.

Millennials and Gen Z drivers are statistically more prone to talk, text and scroll through social media posts on their phones while operating a motor vehicle. According to a NHTSA study, drivers 16 to 24 years old, were observed using handheld electronic devices more frequently than older drivers. During 2019, drivers 15 – 19 years old comprised 9% of those killed in vehicle crashes while driving distracted.

The Arkansas Highway Safety Office and NHTSA urge drivers to put their phones away when behind the steering wheel. Whether traveling across town or cross country, drivers are encouraged to practice these tips when it comes to electronic messaging:

• If you’re expecting a text message or need to send one, get off the road or highway. Pull into a safe location away from traffic, then handle your messaging.

• Ask a passenger to be your “designated texter.” Allow the passenger to access to your phone for calls or messages.

• Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.

• Cell phone use is habit forming. If you struggle with the practice of avoiding text messaging while driving, activate the device “Do Not Disturb” feature, or place the phone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of the vehicle until arriving at your destination.

Texting while driving is not only dangerous, it’s illegal. No text or social media post is worth ruining someone’s day — or taking a life. Always remember, U Drive. U Text. U Pay.

For more information, visit www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/distracted-driving or call the Arkansas Highway Safety Office at (501) 618-8136. For more on Arkansas’ ongoing Toward Zero Deaths campaign to eliminate preventable traffic fatalities, visit www.TZDArkansas.org .