Distracted driving legislation, enforcement holds promise

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo

The Mississippi Senate’s passage of a bill banning texting by all drivers, regardless of age, holds the potential to reduce crashes and fatalities caused by distracted driving, and strong enforcement could get the attention of the thousands of Mississippians who routinely text behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 5,500 people died in 2009 due to distractions, and texting while driving is a distraction.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Of those deaths, NHTSA says 18 percent were linked to cell phones. Speeding and drunken driving are each linked to twice as many deaths.

Only two senators voted against the bill — Republican Sens. Merle Flowers of Southaven and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville. The bill goes to the House, where similar legislation died last year.

Mississippi has a law passed in 2009 that banned young drivers from texting while behind the wheel. The proposal approved in the Senate is similar, but would apply to all drivers. A violation would be a misdemeanor and bring a $500 fine. If an accident occurred as a result of texting while driving, the fine would be $1,000.

Several of the lawmakers questioned how law officers could distinguish between a motorist making a cell phone call or typing a text message.

Some senators expressed concerns about enforcement and privacy, but those same arguments were advanced against mandatory seat-belt use, which in the long term has proven to reduce injuries and deaths. …

So far, 31 states have banned texting while driving, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia. …

A provision in the law also would set a fine of $25 for driving without headlights in any kind of precipitation, no exceptions. The headlight penalty would require a warning on first offense and on the second offense a fine of $25.

Driving should be a no-distractions activity, and the text ban heightens that awareness.

The new headlight law is about visibility in less than perfect weather, which is common sense.