|Updated: 5/18/2012 3:10 am
||Published: 4/18/2012 7:39 pm
The federal government warns texting while driving is by far the most alarming distraction on the road. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, distracted drivers killed nearly 55-hundred people in the United States in 2009.
While Arkansas outlawed texting and driving that same year, we found many Arkansans are still doing it, putting all of us at risk.
"I have noticed a lot of people texting and driving, or just distracted driving period, when I've been running," said one man.
"Parents are always on their phones when they're picking up kids. It's kind of dangerous. They probably have to focus more especially like in school zones," said one student.
"It's illegal now to be on your cell phone talking in school zones," said FOX16's Kelly Dudzik.
"Oh, we should probably tell everyone that," replied the student.
The state outlawed cell phone use of any kind, unless you use a hands-free device, in school and construction zones late last year, yet at the Big Rock Interchange FOX16 caught dozens of drivers talking away.
Distracted driving is not limited to cell conversations. One driver took both hands off the wheel to eat and talk. One decided to do some homework. And, another came to a rolling stop at the red light i-Phone in hand.
"This person's probably texting, too. They're scrolling on an i-Phone. Typically on an i-Phone or something like that, you don't have to scroll. Even if you went to a web page, that would fall under that part of the law, so they would be in violation," says Lt. Carl Minden with the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office.
FOX16 took our video to Minden so he could watch it.
"This lady actually has a child in the car. You can actually see the kid waiving up," he said.
Then, we took our cameras out on the road with Minden in an unmarked sheriff's department car to spot distracted drivers risking their lives, and ours.
"Texting. She's texting. That was clearly texting. You could see the way she had her phone. The way she was scrolling through it. That was a clear text," said Minden.
We drove through downtown Little Rock onto Broadway and saw more texting.
"Texting, right beside us. Yeah, he's clearly texting. That's not somebody dialing a phone number unless they're dialing somebody on a different planet, because that's a lot of digits," said Minden. "That's pretty blatant. I've never honestly been driving around in a marked unit and seen somebody doing it that blatant. Broadway Bridge, and we're in pretty much bumper to bumper traffic."
But even when deputies spot law breakers, it's tough to pull them over.
"You know, if everybody's driving 35 miles an hour on Roosevelt like they're supposed to, I could probably catch up to them. But, if everybody's driving 50 miles an hour like they normally do on Roosevelt, I'm not going to drive 75 miles an hour just to catch up to them," says Minden.
Texting and driving isn't just a problem here in Arkansas. State Farm just released a nationwide survey showing only one out of three teens takes texting and driving seriously enough to realize it can be deadly.
Texting and driving is such a big problem, there's now an entire website dedicated to catching drivers in the act.
But, Minden told us his department has only cited four drivers for texting while driving since 2009. That does not include verbal warnings or the thousands of citations issued since 2009 for careless driving in general.
One driver almost hit a sheriff's deputy on I-30. When confronted, he admitted doing it saying,"I'm so sorry officer, I was texting my girl."
"Do you think there's anything else that can be done to stop it if it's already against the law?" asked Dudzik.
"Probably not. I mean, the main thing is, and I don't think that the legislature really expected us to go out and write 50 to 100 tickets a day doing it," said Minden. "If we didn't have any type of speed limit, people would be driving 100 miles an hour down this road, so by putting some type of restriction on there, you kind of hope to contain people within a certain limit. Most people will try to do the right thing, and if they know it's illegal to text and drive, they're not going to do it."
Putting down your phone means you're four times less likely to get seriously hurt while driving.
The Little Rock Police Department tells us that it's issued zero citations for texting and driving since the 2009 ban.
Arkansas State Police issued 167 citations in 2011, the only year records are available.