arkansas driver's safety guide

Driving safely on Arkansas roads should be our priority every time we get in our cars.

Although it’s a routine task, driving is one of the most dangerous things that we do on a daily basis. Unfortunately, driving in Arkansas is more dangerous than most states, with an average of 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control, that is almost double the national rate of 7.0 deaths per 100,000 people, making Arkansas the sixth most dangerous state in which to drive.

Knowing our state’s traffic laws and becoming a safe, defensive driver can help improve safety on Arkansas roads. The more people who learn and act, the safer we’ll all be on our roadways.

This 2017 Arkansas Driver’s Safety Guide will teach you the rules of the road and how to protect yourself and others while driving.

Be Informed

Traffic laws are created to help keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and everyone on the road safe, but of course they are only effective if they are followed. If we take the time to learn and follow laws that relate to safe driving, we’ll become more consistent, safe drivers.

Here are some of the most basic Arkansas traffic laws that impact everyday driving:

Impaired Driving

Driving impaired is a national epidemic in our country, and unfortunately Arkansas is not an exception.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arkansas had 531 fatalities on its roads in 2015. Of those 531, an alarming 149 involved a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) that was over the legal limit of 0.08.

Arkansas has formed a series of laws to help protect drivers and reduce that amount of deaths related to impairment.

Legal Limit

If you are under the age of 21, the legal limit for driving in Arkansas is 0.02 in accordance with the Zero Tolerance Law. For commercial drivers, the limit is 0.04. For all adults over the age of 21, the BAC limit is 0.08.

The consequences for driving under the influence in Arkansas are rightfully unpleasant. First time offenders could face up to a year in prison (or community service), pay fines, complete an alcohol education program, and have their license suspended for six months. The penalties increase sharply for every new offense within the next five years. By the fourth offense, the driver may face up to $5,000 in fines, six years in prison, and license suspension for four years.

It’s also illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or any other impairing substance. Drivers should read labels on prescribed medicine and discuss the effects with their doctor to avoid drowsiness and dizziness while on the road.

Seat Belt Laws

Seat belts first became a requirement in 1968, and have saved many lives since. However, seat belts are only effective when they are used. As of 2015, Arkansas has one of the lowest seat belt use rates in the country at 78.3% compared to the national average of 85%. The state statistics improve each year and has increased by 10% over the last five years.

Higher seat belt usage may be attributed to law enforcement becoming stricter in enforcing seatbelt laws. This includes requiring that all passengers in the front seats wear a seat belt, and children aged 6 or below wear the proper restraint or seat depending on their age. Furthermore, passengers below 15 years of age have to be buckled in no matter where they sit. Although passengers age 15 and above do not have to wear a seat belt if they are not in the front seats, it is recommended to wear one anyways for optimal safety.

According to Arkansas Highway Traffic Crash Statistics, seven out of every ten fatalities on Arkansas roads involved someone who was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the wreck. Whether you are driving across the state or to the store down the road, wearing a seat belt can save your life.

Move-Over Laws

Arkansas law states that when a car is passing an emergency response or law enforcement vehicle that is displaying flashing lights, passing cars must move into the farthest lane from the emergency or law enforcement vehicle. If it is not possible to change lanes, then the driver should slow down to a reasonable speed and proceed cautiously past the stopped vehicle.

The penalties for not following these directions are fines  ranging from $35 to $100, up to seven days of community service, and suspension of driver’s license from 90 days to six months.

Besides the legal implications, these laws are important for protecting law enforcement and medical personnel, state workers, other people at the scene, and other drivers.

Cell Phone Laws

The cell phones is a great invention that has improved everyday life with one major exception – driving. Across the nation, distracted driving has increased at an exponential level and Arkansas is no exception. In 2009, Arkansas decided to enforce laws to counter the effects of cell phones.

Novice Drivers, Bus Drivers, and Drivers 18-20

All novice drivers (ages 18 and younger) are banned from using a cell phone in any way while driving. The same rule applies to bus drivers, who cannot use their phone unless the bus is off the road with the parking brake on. Drivers aged 18 to 20 are not allowed to use handheld phones, but may communicate hands-free.

Drivers 21 and Older 

All drivers who are age 21 and older are not allowed to text unless there is an emergency. First time offenders may face up to $100 in fines. Texting while driving is a primary law, which means you can get pulled over solely for this reason.

Just because you are allowed to talk on a cell phone does not mean that it is the logical or safe, thing to do. Evidence shows that talking on the phone can be just as distracting and harmful as texting. Both texting and talking can cause the driver to exhibit patterns similar to driving while impaired including speeding and reckless driving.

Save your phone for an emergency rather than creating an emergency because a text couldn’t wait.

Left Lane Laws

While traveling on the interstate, many drivers assume that the left lane may been utilized for consistent travel. In actuality, this is not the case. The left lane is the passing lane.

Arkansas law states that a vehicle should remain on the right side of traffic unless construction is blocking the right half of the road or you are passing a vehicle headed in the same direction. Staying in the left lane is considered to be impeding traffic and can result in a fine.

Work Zones

Construction is a common sight while traveling, but that does not mean it should be treated lightly. Workers are along the side of the road and are in a dangerous situation already. This is made much worse by careless drivers.

Arkansas does have one of the stricter work zone policies in the United States. Most states issue doubled fines for speeding in a construction zone when workers are present, but Arkansas is one of the few states that doubles all moving fines while workers are present. When you see a construction sign, it is important to slow down and obey all road rules.

Defensive Driving

While driving seems like a simple concept, there are a few different approaches we need to take when we get behind the steering wheel. One of these is defensive driving. This is defined by the National Safety Council as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.”

Be Aware

Situational awareness is a key part of defensive driving. It means to always know what is happening around you and your vehicle. Here are ways to keep situational awareness as you drive:

  • Reduce blind spot exposure by adjusting your mirrors so you can’t see your own vehicle. This enables you to be aware of more of the road.
  • Even with increased mirror visibility, always be careful when changing lanes. A car could be out of your view but in the lane to which you are moving.
  • Check your mirrors often (every 6 to 8 seconds).
  • When stopping at a stop sign or light, look in every directions before continuing to move forward.
  • Don’t focus on one spot in the road for too long. This can lead to “zoning out.” Instead, move your eyes to various parts of the road to help stay aware and active.
  • Drive with your headlights on, whether it is day or night. Visibility of cars is significantly greater when headlights are used.
  • When on the interstate or highway, pay attention to the on-ramps and adjust for oncoming traffic.

Be Ready for Dangerous Scenarios

While potential danger is unpleasant to anticipate, being prepared for potentially dangerous situations while driving saves lives. It is easy to assume that other drivers are law-abiding and paying attention, but we know that is not always the case. Do not drive based on what you think a car is going to do; drive based on what the car is currently doing. Don’t assume that a car will stop at a light or that a driver sees. Here are some steps to help anticipate potentially dangerous situations:

  • Always follow the three-second rule. This means that at all times you should be at least three seconds behind the car in front of you. This will help ensure you have enough time to stop if there’s a collision ahead of you or the car in front of you stops abruptly. Increase this time to six seconds if there is poor weather like rain.
  • When the car in front of you slows down, immediately start slowing down as well. Waiting to stop won’t do anything, but make a collision more likely.
  • Be on the lookout for driving mistakes by others and know what you will do if the situation occurs.

Safe Driving

Safe driving occurs when you are being cautious and have constant control of your vehicle. Here’s how to be prepared and keep control:

  • Hydroplaning – Wet weather is very serious and all drivers should exercise caution when driving on slippery roads. Reduce your speed to below 55 mph, and if you start to hydroplane, slow down gradually and slightly straighten your car up if it starts to fishtail. An overreaction can cause more damage to your car and increase your risk of injury.
  • Semi-trucks and buses – While these large vehicles share the roads with cars, they should be treated with more caution. If you are behind a semi-truck, check to see if you can view the driver through his rear-view mirrors. If you can’t see it, then it probably can’t see you either. Never spend too much time driving next to a large vehicle; stay behind until you know you can drive pass safely, avoiding their blind spots.
  • Animals in the road – If an animal jumps in front of your vehicle, you first instinct may be to swerve. This will only increase the likelihood of your hurting yourself or someone else. Instead brake, honk your horn, and prepare for impact in case the animal does not move.

After a Collision

Even if you follow every rule of the road and are constantly aware, collisions may still happen. In 2014 alone, there were over 131,000 traffic wrecks. While we can’t always prevent collisions, we can be prepared for when they occur. Here are important actions to take if you are involved in an accident:

  • Call 911 – Whether you need medical assistance or just need to file a report, it is important to make sure that help is on the way.
  • Check for injuries – Make sure that you are okay and fine to get out of the car. Also, see if the people in the other car need assistance.
  • Be careful – If your car is able to move, get as far off the road as you are able. If not, turn on your emergency flashers and use flares or traffic cones if you have them.
  • Take pictures – Have a record of the scene by taking pictures and videos of everything involved in the accident. Cell phones make taking photographs quick and easy.
  • Talk to witnesses – If anyone saw the collision, exchange contact information with them. You will also want to exchange information with the other driver.
  • Report to the police – Call the police to report the collision so there is an official record.

After the report has been filed and you are no longer at the scene, there are still some things that need to do:

  • Seek medical attention – Visit your physician and make sure that you are fine. Many people do not realize the full extent of their injuries immediately after the crash, so it is important to get examined.
  • Inform your insurance company – Notify your insurance company without much delay. A lot of policies require immediate notification so the sooner the better.
  • Call a personal injury attorney – While not every accident needs an attorney, a personal injury lawyer will handle your claim while you focus on medical treatment and recuperation.

Be prepared by thinking in advance about what you would do in certain situations so that you are ready if anything should happen.

Moving Forward

Although most of us do it every day, driving can be dangerous.

These laws and safety precautions are intended to guide us to safer roads and prevent tragedy on our roadways. They are only effective if they are followed.

Drive safely, be aware of other drivers, and focus on getting to your destination safely.