Texting drivers, speeders blamed for I-10 deaths

PASCAGOULA — At least 22 people have died in traffic wrecks on Interstate 10 in southern Mississippi since 2009 — and authorities blame many of the accidents on distracted drivers and speeding.

Eleven of the deaths occurred in 2010 and six people have been killed this year.

Mississippi Department of Transportation traffic counts have shown as many as 88,000 cars per day using Interstate 10 between Woolmarket and Interstate 110 in Harrison County, where the road’s highest traffic levels are typically seen.

Master Sgt. Johnny Poulous of the Mississippi Highway Patrol told The Sun Herald that texting and other non-driving activities behind the wheel are common. Distracted drivers miss construction zone signs and merging vehicles, causing collisions.

Many of the collisions take place at construction bottlenecks where traffic suddenly slows, he said.

“If you don’t get from point A to point B, everything in between will not matter,” Poulos said. “The bottom line is we need people to take responsibility for their own safety, as well as the safety of others. There is a lot going on around you, but you’ve got to be focused on your driving.”

MDOT district engineer Kelly Castleberry said studies also show speeding, drunken driving, wet roads and drivers falling asleep as culprits in fatal accidents. A large number of accidents occur near exits, he said.

Coastal sheriff’s deputies may be spotted driving along the interstate, but those officers do not have legal powers to use radar detectors to catch speeders. Efforts to grant them that authority have failed in the Legislature.

In the meantime, Poulos said manpower issues have affected the state police troop that covers Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, George, Pearl River and Stone counties. Only about 18 troopers are assigned to that entire area, Poulos said.

“We’re trying to recruit from the Coast because Troop K is very understaffed,” Poulos said. “We’re dealing with a pretty severe manpower issue. That hurts us from an enforcement perspective because we do not have a lot of troopers to be out there doing enforcement.”

The Associated Press