Texting while driving law starts today

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TEXTING BAN: Motor vehicles drive down Hwy. 11. Starting today, motorists caught texting while driving will be fined. Photo by Ashley Collins.

TEXTING BAN: Motor vehicles drive down Highway 11. Starting today, texting and driving is illegal. Photo by Ashley Collins.

Starting today, texting while driving is illegal in the state of Mississippi. Local law enforcement agencies plan to implement the texting-and-driving ban to keep roadways safe.

In March, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 389 into law after it passed with an overwhelming majority in the Mississippi Senate.

The bill bans drivers from operating a motor vehicle while texting or using social media sites on a hand-held wireless communication device, according to previous Item coverage.

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“This law will save lives and everyone needs to know that their loved ones will be protected because of it,” Bryant said in a release.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop K Cpl. Benjamin Seibert said state troopers will enforce the law to protect motorists.

“I myself have worked three car accident fatalities in my nine years as a trooper, all of which were related to text messaging and now we have a law set in place that could help us prevent that,” Seibert said.

Seibert also said the new law will coincide with the careless and reckless driving laws currently set in place in the state.

Under the Mississippi Code of 2013, Section 63-3-1213, law enforcement agencies can cite motorists for careless driving if they’re on the roadway “without regard to traffic, corner, curves, grade and use of the streets and highways.” The 2013 Section 63-3-1201 states reckless driving is a greater offense and cites motorists who drive in “a manner as to indicate a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

“Basically, if a driver is texting and their vehicle is swerving in the lane then they can get ticketed for careless driving and texting,” Seibert said.

On a municipal level, authorities from the Picayune Police and Poplarville Police departments don’t have as much jurisdiction when it comes to citing motorists under the new law, Poplarville Police Capt. Rossie Creel said.

“It mostly applies to the county sheriff’s department and the state’s highway patrol. Under the new law, it makes texting while driving a civil offense that would cost the city to ticket motorists,” Creel said.

Creel also said they’re actively working to see if motorists caught texting while driving can be cited under the reckless and careless driving laws.

“We do recognize the dangers of texting and driving so we’re consulting with an attorney to see if we’re able to do that,” Creel said.

Motorists caught texting while driving could receive a $25 fine, which will go up to $100 on July 1, 2016, according to previous Item coverage.

Under the new law, making and receiving calls remains legal.

Mississippi is the 45th state to ban texting while driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.