JACKSON – Starting this summer, first-time teen-age drivers will have to wait another six months to get behind the wheel by themselves and cannot be texting when doing so.
Earlier this week, Gov. Haley Barbour signed into law a bill passed by the Mississippi Legislature to make teen-agers wait a little longer to get a driver’s license. The bill also makes it illegal for 15 -and -16 year-olds to text while driving.
The goal of the legislation, supporters say, is to make the state’s roadways safer.
“I think this bill will give young drivers more experience driving with people over the age of 21,” said Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, who has worked in recent years to pass similar legislation. “Ultimately, I think it will save lives.”
Under the new law, which takes effect July 1, a teen-ager can still get a learner’s permit at age 15 and drive with a licensed adult over the age of 21 in the vehicle. But under the new law, the teen will have to hold the learner’s permit for one year instead of six months.
After one year of driving with a learner’s permit with no accidents or traffic citations, a teen can get an intermediate license that restricts the driving by time of day.
After six months, the teen can get the regular license.
The change will mean the earliest a teen can get a regular license is 16 1/2 instead of 16.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Warner McBride, D-Courtland, said the legislation is needed because statistics indicate that new drivers are more likely to have deadly wrecks.
He said Mississippi traditionally has the highest or second highest teen driving fatality rate.
According to DriveHomeSafe.com, teens make up 7 percent of the total driving population, but 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. Their age group also is the most prone to be involved in single-vehicle accidents.
With the legislation, said McBride, “we’re trying to save lives.”
The ban on text messaging for those with a permit and with an intermediate license was added to the legislation on the House floor via amendment.
There is a $500 fine for those caught texting while driving.
“I think it will be hard to enforce, but we are making a statement as public policy it is not good for young people to text while behind the wheel,” Tollison said. “It is dangerous.”
Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal