JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - A sign of the times, one-by-one states are putting the brakes on allowing motorists to text message while driving. Proposed Senate Bill 2793 was passed by state lawmakers last Thursday and it is now on its way to the House.
Under the proposed law a driver could be fined $500 for texting while driving, and penalty of $1,000 could be ruled by a judge if a drive is in a wreck while text messaging.
When we think of texting and things going bad, we remember a viral video from early this year of a Pennsylvania woman who tripped into a mall fountain, because she was distracted by her cell phone. In the end she suffered little more than wounded pride and in need of a towel, however such an oversight behind the wheel of a vehicle and the consequences can be fatal.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 5,500 people die every year as a result of distracted driving. Some state lawmakers such as Democrat Senator Gray Tollison and Republican Senator Billy Hudson are using those types of statistics to propose legislation that would ban texting while driving.
"We're overdue in Mississippi and we've got to do something about it," Hudson said.
For some families, such as Bill Lofton's, it is too late. While riding his motorcycle last summer, Lofton was run over by an Nissan Xterra driven by a teen. Witnesses of the accident say the teenager was using her phone when the fatal accident occurred.
It was determined that the girl would not face criminal charges, February 2. Incidents such as that one, has prompted legislators to take action.
Three straight years a proposed ban has fallen short, but this year the measure has bi-partisan support.
"If we state as a matter of public policy let's don't do this then hopefully people will respond to that and try to refrain from texting," Tollison said.
Tollison's bill, 2793, is separate from Hudson's, but it's not just lawmakers trying to raise awareness.
Jackson based Cellular South launched a campaign last year using Ole Miss standout and current Kansas City Chief Dexter McCluster. McCluster is the spokesman in the cell phone service providers "Don't Text and Drive, Stay Alive" campaign.
As the bill advances from the State Senate to the State House, the Magnolia State is getting closer to becoming the 32nd state to outlaw the distraction. Matter-of-fact, Hudson's law goes many steps further.
"My bill is a 'cell phone bill'," Hudson emphasized. "My bill says you can not use the cell phone while that car is moving."
Hudson's main concern is the ability of police to enforce a texting ban. Jackson Police Assistant Chief Lee Vance said he would like the state to pursue something more comprehensive.
"Texting is definitely a problem and texting and driving is definitely dangerous, but it's only part of the problem," Vance said.
Vance includes eating, putting on make-up and even witnessing drivers attempting to read as distractions that are comparable to texting.
Vance's point is reinforced by an incident in September when an SUV careened off the Spillway and into the Reservoir. Police reports state that the two teens in the vehicle were distracted by an MP3 player, not a cell phone.
Current Mississippi law prohibits drivers with learner's permits or intermediate licenses to text behind the wheel.
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