By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Mississippi Senate passed legislation Thursday that supporters say will make the state’s motorists safer.
The Senate approved legislation that would ban texting while driving. It also would require drivers to turn on their headlights if precipitation is falling.
Both bills passed by overwhelming margins and now advance to the state House. But there was some opposition, especially by those who questioned how the bill would be enforced and by those who wondered if the proposals were examples of efforts to overlegislate.
Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, said the ban is needed because “I have been to funerals … because of cell phone use, because of texting” while driving.
The legislation would not prevent talking on the cell phone while driving.
Hudson said 31 states ban texting while driving and nine states ban all use of cell phones.
Under the legislation, the penalty would be up to $500 for texting while driving. If a wreck is caused by someone texting while driving, the penalty could be $1,000, plus any penalties that would otherwise be imposed.
Senate Judiciary B Chair Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, admitted the legislation would be hard to enforce, but said it is a start.
Sens. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, and Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, voted against the legislation. McDaniel said he recognized the dangers of texting and driving, but wanted an answer to how the legislation would be enforced.
He said it would be difficult for law enforcement to determine if someone is texting. He said a driver could simply look down for a second and a law enforcement office might pull the driver over for texting.
Current state law prevents those with an intermediate license from texting while driving.
Sen. Eric Powell, D-Corinth, author of the legislation requiring headlights to be used if there is precipitation, was questioned about what would be considered precipitation.
He said any moisture falling from the sky is precipitation and more than one drop would constitute the need for headlights.
The penalty would be a warning, and on the second offense the penalty would be $25.