Don’t hold the phone – Law-enforcement officials back cell-driving ban

By Danza Johnson | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A proposed law to ban cellphone usage while driving is heavily supported by area law enforcement, but some residents have their doubts.
Itawamba Sheriff Chris Dickinson said banning cellphone usage for drivers will save lives. However, he said even though it’s not the safest practice, talking on the phone while driving is not the issue. The thing that needs to be addressed is texting while driving.
“There is just no way to text and drive safely,” said Dickinson. “It’s no different than drinking and driving in terms of the distraction and slowed reaction time it causes. Anything you are doing that takes away from paying attention to the road needs to be stopped.”
The National Transportation Safety Board recently called for a nationwide ban on texting, emailing and general cellphone usage while driving. A growing proportion of highway deaths related to cellphone use and texting prompted the call.
Tupelo Police patrolman Alan Chavers said a large number of accidents he sees are due to cellphone usage.
“The roads change every second you are driving,” said Chavers. “There are animals and people who can come in the roads, lights change, people stop in front of you. There is just too much that changes while you are driving for you to be using a cellphone.”
Reducing texting while driving would make roads safer, said Plantersville resident Randy Pierce, but the same holds true for other habits.
“Yes, texting and driving is dangerous, but so is playing with your radio and driving, eating and driving, putting on your makeup and driving and a bunch of other things,” he said. “So my point is, where will the line be drawn when it comes to things you can and can’t do?”
Michael Sanderson of Tupelo said he believes police would use such a law to target people.
“There are already so many laws out there that I feel are only in place as reasons to get vehicles pulled over,” said Sanderson. “No way you can stop everyone who is talking on a cellphone. I don’t like it.”
Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin said he can see some difficulties in actually catching people in the act of using their phones.
“I think it’s a great law to have on the books,” said Martin. “But I think just the talking on the phone part would be very difficult to enforce. I, myself and my officers have been guilty of talking while driving on work-related calls. I’m sure some of these senators and congressmen have done it as well. I think people will be more discreet about it but wouldn’t stop.”
Martin said under no circumstances are his officers allowed to text while driving. “If they did that, then someone would be in a lot of trouble,” he said.
Chavers said he thinks it will be difficult to enforce but just having the law on the books will help.
“I think making people aware that it is a law will slow it down,” he said. “We just have to get out there and enforce the law. But I don’t see any person in law enforcement being against it.”
danza.johnson@journalinc.com