Msg from Capitol 2 MS teens: No texting n driving

Published 11:08 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A bill that passed the Mississippi House on Tuesday would ban newly licensed teenage drivers from sending text messages from behind the wheel.

House members pushing for the texting-while-driving prohibition said inexperienced drivers don’t have the judgment to maneuver in traffic while pushing tiny buttons or a screen on a cell phone. Other lawmakers say the state shouldn’t dictate what drivers can do in their own cars or trucks — even drivers who are still learning the rules of the road.

“We’re not trying to keep anyone from doing anything other than staying alive and using common sense while doing those things,” said Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point.

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The bill, which moves back to the Senate for more work, would also add six months to the minimum age for teenagers to get their driver’s licenses.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, said people do all sorts of distracting things while they’re on the road. “It’s also unsafe to eat while you’re driving, unsafe to fool with the radio,” Mims said in arguing against the text ban.

The texting ban would apply only to drivers with learner’s permits, which require another fully licensed driver to be in the vehicle for supervision; or with intermediate licenses, which restrict the hours for unsupervised driving.

A new driver caught texting behind the wheel could face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $500. If there’s an accident when someone is texting while driving, the fine would be up to $1,000.

Under current Mississippi law, a driver can get a learner’s permit at 15. After six months with no accidents or tickets, at a minimum age of 15-1/2, the person can move to an intermediate license. Six months later with a clean record, a minimum age of 16, that person can get a full-fledged license to drive alone.

The bill wouldn’t change the minimum age for a learner’s permit. But it would move the minimum age for an intermediate license to 16 and for a full-fledged license to 16-1/2.

The intermediate license allows unsupervised driving from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said he’s concerned law-enforcement officers could use a ban on texting and driving as a reason to commit racial profiling by pulling over young black men to ask them questions or search their vehicles.

“I don’t want to give one more excuse, one more excuse, to have my child and some of your children stopped on the highway merely because they look different or look ’suspicious,”’ Blackmon said.

The bill is Senate Bill 2280.