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Distracted Driving Law Changes First Penalty to Fine

Texting and Driving

With new revisions to Paul's Law, Act 704, texting and driving is punishable by a $250 fine, but using a GPS is legal.

Distracted drivers will now receive an immediate $250 fine on their first offense instead of a warning because of Paul’s Law, Act 706, as of July 31.

After the first offense, offenders are fined $500.

UA Police Department Captain Gary Crain supports any change in policy that reduces accidents, he said in an email.

“Whenever I'm out in a truck or SUV that sits higher than cars, I see people holding and looking at devices,” Crain said. “It is quite prevalent.”

Act 706 also includes accessing a social networking site as the same offense. Reading and posting to social media both fall under this category, as well as changing music on a phone, according to the act.

There will be no change in patrol or training because of the new change in law. Police officers are simply trained to be observant and to enforce the law, Crain said.

Since 2013, UAPD has issued 39 texting and driving citations and 107 written warnings, Crain said.

Raygan Sylvester, a UA senior and Miss Northwest Arkansas, is very excited about the change in law because she thinks it will help deter students from distracted driving, she said.

Sylvester’s fight against distracted driving began in 2010, when her brother, Cody, was in a wreck, she said.

Although he was not texting and driving, Sylvester said his wreck made her aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

Since then, Sylvester has started her own nonprofit organization using distracted driving as her platform. Over the past seven years, she has spoken about all kinds of distracted driving, and texting is one that she sees “all the time,” Sylvester said.

“We live in a world where instant connection and instant responses are kind of expected, and so people are so attached to their phones,” Sylvester said. “It’s hard to put it down.”

On her website, Sylvester garnered 400 signatures for the national Arrive Alive campaign pledge, a vow to not text and drive, in April of 2016, she said. Signers pledge not to engage in distracting activities while driving, including texting, eating, adjusting the radio and using navigation systems.

Within the new law, certain practices while driving are exempt from punishment by law enforcement. Among these are making a phone call and using a navigation system.

Crain did not think it would be harder to catch violators of the law because of the exemptions, he said, but Sylvester disagreed.

Though drivers can be easily caught speeding because of police technology, it is harder to prove what exactly they are doing on their phone, Sylvester said.

To UA junior Lucy Woodbury, GPS is too broad of an explanation to be exempted from the law, she said.  

“They need to be defining it better,” Woodbury said.

Some who use a GPS never look at their phone, while others barely look away, Woodbury said.

“You could be very distracted using it, or you could just be glancing down at it,” Woodbury said. “When I use a GPS, I always set it before I start driving and then let it speak to me, so that way I’m never looking at it. I don’t think that should be considered distracted driving.”

Sylvester is excited for the law, though, because every little bit helps, she said.

“What I wanted was to see a change in statistics, and that’s hard for one person to do,”  Sylvester said.

Sylvester thinks the fine is a fair punishment for distracted driving, she said.

“Any way that we’re trying to save the lives of Arkansans is a step forward,” Sylvester said.

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