Driving in Arkansas
Like most Americans, the people of Arkansas depend heavily on their cars to get around. There are over 100,000 miles of public roads in this geographically diverse state, which stretches from the highlands of the Ozark and Ouachita mountains to the lowlands along the Mississippi River. From the city streets of Jonesboro to the rural roads of the state's least populated counties, from the Interstate highways to the Scenic Byways, Arkansas' 3-million-plus residents have a lot of roads to choose from.
So whether you're commuting to work in Fayetteville or cruising the Great River Road, here's what you need to know about driving in the Natural State:
Auto Insurance in Arkansas
All Arkansas car owners are required to purchase liability auto insurance. This helps to cover the cost of injuries or property damage if you are found responsible for causing an accident. Liability insurance must include, at minimum:
- $25,000 for bodily injury, per person
- $50,000 for total bodily injury, per accident, if multiple people are injured in the accident
- $25,000 for property damage, per accident
You must provide proof of this insurance during a traffic stop or if you are involved in an accident.
Insurers in Arkansas must offer anyone applying for liability insurance the opportunity to purchase these three additional types of coverage:
- Uninsured motorist bodily and property damage, which covers you and your vehicle if the other driver is at fault and does not have liability insurance
- Underinsured motorist coverage for bodily injury, which provides additional protection if the other driver is at fault and doesn't have enough coverage to cover your injuries
- Personal injury protection coverage, which provides wage loss, death benefits, and medical coverage regardless of who is at fault in the accident
Almost all insurers in the state also offer additional insurance, such as comprehensive coverage (which covers incidents like storm damage to your vehicle) and collision coverage (which protects against damage to your car if it is involved in a crash.) You can purchase these other kinds of insurance, or go without them, if you choose.
Car Culture in Arkansas
The wayfarer depicted in Arkansas' one-time state song, The Arkansas Traveler, was a lost man on horseback. But these days, the state's residents mostly get around by car.
And although Arkansas isn't the first state that comes to mind when most people think about America's love of the automobile and the open road, that doesn't mean Arkansans haven't long been part of this nation's car culture. In 1913, there were 3,596 passenger vehicles registered in the state, despite the fact that at that time, the local roads weren't entirely up to the task. In 1919, the Climber Motor Corporation was founded in Little Rock with the goal of manufacturing vehicles that could handle the rough roads and challenging terrain of the region, letting Arkansas fully participate in America's car craze. Climber didn't last long, but Arkansans didn't stop driving.
Your Mileage May Vary
With all those mountains to traverse and miles to cover, it's not surprising that Arkansans drive more than the average American. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported that Arkansas residents drive an average of 14,974 miles a year, compared to a nationwide average of 13,476 miles. And many of those miles are driven by commuters.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), over 93 percent of Arkansas workers drove to work in 2013, 83 percent of them alone. Only 0.5 percent took public transportation to their workplace, and just 1.7 percent walked. These commutes were relatively short; it took roughly 20 minutes to get to work in Arkansas, compared to 24.7 in the U.S. as a whole, and over 30 in New York, a state famous for long and arduous trips to work.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
To match its varied geography, Arkansas has all kinds of roads, from Interstate highways to rural byways to city and small town streets. These changes of scenery don't just keep you from getting bored behind the wheel; they can also affect your safety. That's because when it comes to fatal car accidents, some types of roads are statistically more dangerous than others.
In 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Arkansas had 466 fatal auto accidents; 354 of them, or 76 percent, occurred on rural roads. That doesn't mean you're more likely to be involved in an accident in a sparsely populated area; far more of Arkansas' total number of accidents in 2014 happened on urban roads. But due to various factors, including seat-belt use, which the NHTSA found to be lower nationwide in rural areas, especially for occupants of pickup trucks, accidents on rural roads can be deadlier than those in more congested places.
The Price of Gas
As of early August 2017, the average price of a gallon of gas in Arkansas is about $2.11, according to Gas Buddy, which also notes Arkansas has the fifth least expensive gas price in the nation. (The US average price at the same time is $2.34.) Still, fuel is more expensive now than it was in the summer 2016, when it briefly dipped below $1.95. And it depends on where you're filling up; a few counties in the central and northern parts of Arkansas are enjoying lower prices than much of the southern half of the state.
With the amount of driving Arkansans do, filling your tank often can add up, no matter if gas prices happen to be up or down that week. If you're concerned about how much you're spending at the pump, there are ways to improve your car's fuel efficiency that can help you reduce your gas budget.
The Unemployment Rate
As of June 2017, the unemployment rate in Arkansas was 3.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is lower than the nationwide rate of 4.4 percent, and gives the state the rank of 12th lowest unemployment rate in the country.
But what does the number of people who are working (or not working) in a state have to do with its driving patterns? The more people who have jobs, the more workers there are who need to get to work. And because so many Americans commute by car, that means there are more vehicles on the highways and city streets. In addition, a higher employment rate leads to more disposable income for people to spend on non-essential activities like eating out, shopping for clothes or electronics, or seeing shows. And of course, some will also buy new cars. But even if all these newly-employed workers stick to their old vehicles, working means having the money to drive to the mall or the amusement park. This, too, leads to more cars on the roads.
Because Arkansas' unemployment rate has been slowly improving over the past few years, Natural State residents may currently be seeing the results of that trend, both good and bad, on the road. However, the rates of employment aren't the same statewide; metropolitan areas like those in the northwestern corner of Arkansas are doing better, employment-wise, than other, more rural areas, such as the counties along the state's southern border.
Distracted driving is a problem that has recently received new attention and prompted stricter legislation in Arkansas. Though texting while driving has been illegal in the Natural State for many years, “Paul's Law," passed in April of 2017, says a driver can be cited for any activity involving any wireless device that distracts them from the road. This includes texting as well as communicating via social media sites or apps, or sending email. Under the new law, the fine for a first offense is $250 and additional offenses will cost distracted drivers $500 each. If the distracting behavior leads to an accident, those fines can be doubled.
Arkansas drivers between 18 and 20 years old are prohibited from using handheld cellphones; this, along with the overall ban on texting while driving, is a primary law. Drivers under 18 are banned from using cellphones at all, and it is illegal for all motorists to use handheld cellphones in school zones or highway construction zones.
Distracted driving, especially among younger people, is a particular concern for the Arkansas State Police. In their 2017 Highway Safety Plan, they lay out a strategy to educate the public about the risks of texting and driving along with drinking, failing to comply with seat-belt laws, and other dangerous behaviors.
Teen Drivers in Arkansas
In Arkansas, driver's licenses are issued by the Office of Driver Services and testing is administered by the Arkansas State Police. Tests consist of written and road portions, as well as a vision exam.
Arkansas teens between 14 and 18 years of age who wish to obtain a license must provide a birth certificate and proof of enrollment in school with a grade point average of at least 2.0, or a diploma, if they have graduated from high school. They must be accompanied to the testing site by a parent or legal guardian. New teen drivers between 14 and 18 years old will progress through three stages in the state's graduated license program: from a learner's license (for those at least 14 years old), to an Intermediate License (for those at least 16 years old), to a regular license (for which a driver must be at least 18 years of age.) Each stage has specific restrictions, e.g., a learner must have a licensed driver over the age of 21 in the car and all passengers in their car must wear seat belts at all times.
Applicants over the age of 18 need to provide proof of age and identification before taking any portion of the exam.
All applicants for an Arkansas driver's license must show proof of legal presence in the United States and proof of identity by providing two of a list of approved documents.
If your teenager is a new driver, you may be interested in some of the new methods available for monitoring a teen's driving habits. These technologies can help you feel assured even when you can't be in the car with your child.
The State of Driving in Arkansas
In a state with a relatively small population and a relatively large area, owning a vehicle can be essential for getting everywhere you need to go. Plus, when there are so many opportunities to explore such varied natural beauty, the desire to get out on the road is, well, natural. Knowing the facts about local driving laws and requirements helps you make smart decisions and stay safe on the road, whether that road leads to the forest, the city, or the mountains.