No Texting & Driving Law in Miss.
A new state law effective Wednesday should make drivers think about waiting to handle texts and social media alerts.
Getting caught driving while texting, tweeting, emailing or checking Facebook can cost you a $25 fine. The fine goes up to $100 on July 1, 2016.
However, some Mississippi law enforcement officials said the new law will be time-consuming and hard to enforce.
Police Chief Miller gave this example:
An officer stops a driver who appears to be texting. The driver says he or she wasn’t texting or was only sending or receiving a phone call, which the law allows unless you’re a school bus driver. The officer asks to see the phone. The driver says no. To pursue the charge, an officer would have to seize the phone or get a subpoena for phone records.
“It probably would have made it easier to say you can’t use your cellphone while driving,” Miller said. “Then people would have gone hands-free, which is what we want to do anyway because it’s safer.”
He compared the law with the seatbelt law that made failure to buckle-up a secondary offense.
“I imagine this law’s going to have to be tweaked,” Miller said.
Because it’s a civil law — not a criminal law — police will have to take texting tickets to the justice court in their jurisdiction, instead of to municipal court. Tickets written by state troopers and sheriffs’ deputies already go to justice court.
Mississippi had been one of only six states that hadn’t banned texting while driving. Fourteen states ban the use of handheld phones while driving.
Public-safety officials for years have said a driver going 55 mph will cover the length of a football field in the 5 seconds it takes to send a text.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said the law could help save lives, but he thinks most people who text and drive won’t stop.
“Living in this instant world of communication, it’s almost like people can’t imagine what it’s like to ignore a text or phone call,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to stop people from speeding in the 35 years that I’ve been a cop, and you can see how that’s working out.”
Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara said his staff will meet with prosecutors to see how far they’re willing to go to prosecute a civil charge.
“It is what it is and we’re going to have to deal with it,” he said.
Gulfport police Sgt. Damon McDaniel said it’s likely patrol officers will continue to write careless driving tickets unless there’s no room for doubt. Swerving or crossing the center line is careless driving regardless of the reason for distraction, he said.
Story written by: Robin Fitzgerald at the Sun Herald