JACKSON – Mississippi is now one of only nine states not to ban all drivers from text-messaging, according to Distraction.Gov, a U.S. Department of Transportation website.
In Mississippi, teens with a beginner license are banned from texting while driving.
The Mississippi Senate Transportation Committee recently held a hearing on whether the law should be expanded during the 2014 session to cover all drivers or even expanded to ban all handheld cellphone use.
“We are trying to find some common ground on what we need to do,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland. Simmons conceded the issue is a tough one for the Mississippi Legislature to tackle because of members who say they oppose laws that infringe on their “individual rights.”
“Where do we draw the line?” asked Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, during the Transportation Committee hearing. Harkins said that people who eat, read the newspaper or groom themselves while driving also are distracted.
Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, who presented evidence on the issue at the hearing, said she understands the individual rights issue, but said someone texting while driving down the road puts not only his or her life in danger, but also the lives of other drivers.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said there are many complex questions surrounding the issue, such as the fact that someone texting or driving on a remote section of highway would be safer than someone driving without texting in a high-traffic area.
Doty conceded that studies on the issue vary. Others pointed out that enforcing the laws regarding cellphones, particularly texting while driving, can be difficult. Some argued that it could cause more danger for a driver to try to hide his cellphone while texting.
Sen. Giles Ward, R-Lousiville, said perhaps there should be a mechanism to mechanically shut down cellphone use once a car is in motion, but that also would preclude the person in the backseat from using a cellphone.
According to the Distraction.Gov web page, in 2011, there were 3,321 fatalities involving distracted drivers compared to 3,267 in 2010. There were 382,000 injuries related to distracted drivers in 2011 compared to 416,000 in 2010. But, the website’s definition of distracted is varied, including not only cellphones, but also eating and other activities.
In 2011, 10 percent of all crashes were related to distractions.
According to the website, 11 states and the District of Columbia ban all handheld cellphone use by drivers.
Simmons said he wants to gather more information on the issue, including gathering data from insurance companies about whether rates might go down in states that enact tougher laws.
CELLPHONE AND DRIVING LAWS in Mississippi and neighboring
• Bans texting for beginner drivers. A person has to be at least 16 to obtain the beginning or intermediate license.
• Bans all cellphone (both handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers.
• Bans all cellphone use (both handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers.
• Bans texting for all drivers.
• Bans all cellphone use (handheld and hands-free) for beginner drivers and bus drivers.
• Bans handheld use for drivers age 18-20. Louisiana
• Bans all cellphone use (handheld and hands-free) for drivers under age 18 and for bus drivers.
• Bans all texting.
• Bans texting for all drivers.
• Bans all cellphone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers and bus drivers.