Drive now, talk later
The 2009 legislative session would begin grandly with swift approval of HB 1013, to prohibit drivers from using handheld cellular telephones.
Some states (and countries) already have enacted such laws. Numerous studies show that using the phone while driving greatly increases the risk of accidents and fatalities — far more than other distractions, such as listening to or tuning the radio. At least one independent study found that talking on the phone while driving is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. And we all have the evidence of our own eyes. Anyone who spends time behind the wheel, any pedestrian who crosses city streets, can tell scary stories of oh-so-near misses caused by drivers using phones.
HB 1013, sponsored by Rep. Ray Kidd of Jonesboro, is called “Paul's law,” after Paul Ray Davidson, a constituent of Kidd's who, Kidd said, died when his vehicle was struck head-on by an SUV driven by a person who was sending a text message. Davidson's daughter asked Kidd to sponsor a bill prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.
The bill would be even better if it proscribed hands-free phones too, but HB 1013 is a great step forward as is. The cell-phone companies probably will oppose it — no cause is so worthy as to be safe from corporate greed — and the desperately lonely will argue they have a constitutional right to use the phone while driving. There is no such right, though, any more than there's a right to drive while sodden with drink, or at night with the lights off.
The better way
The same advice from a courageous and far-sighted weekly newspaper was ignored, but perhaps the legislature will pay more attention to an out-of-state expert and adopt a tax credit to help low-income Arkansans buy groceries. Last year, at Governor Beebe's request, the legislature cut the state sales tax on groceries in half. The governor wants to cut it even further when the legislature convenes next month, even though crucial state services such as Medicaid are already under-funded. The sales tax is regressive, all right, but it is paid by rich as well as by poor. And the rich spend more money on food than the poor do. An across-the-board cut in the sales tax while Medicaid goes begging means that poor people will be denied health care so that Waltons and Hussmans and Dillards can save on their lobster and their Chateaubriand. A tax credit, based on family income, can be directed specifically and exclusively to those who need assistance. These points were made to legislators at a recent committee meeting by an economist from a nonpartisan tax research group in Washington. Let's hope they listened this time.