Cellular South, which supported a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety pushing for passage of restrictions on cell phone texting while driving, hailed Gov. Haley Barbour's decision Monday to sign into law a bill that bans some new drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.
"This is a good first step in Mississippi's efforts to promote driver safety," said Jim Richmond, director of Corporate Communications for Cellular South. "Defensive driving requires the full attention of the driver and texting while driving is just too dangerous for anyone at any age," he added, noting that many of Mississippi's rural roads have higher speed limits, less traffic and fewer nearby medical services.
Under Senate Bill 2280 signed by Gov. Barbour, drivers with an intermediate license, a learning permit or a temporary driving permit - mostly 15 and 16 year olds - would be prohibited from texting from their cell phone while driving. The bill also adds six months to the length of time teenagers must wait before they receive driver's licenses.
Violators of the texting ban, which takes effect July 1, could be fined up to $500 for each infraction and up to $1,000 if the driver is involved in an accident while texting on a cell phone. Nine states already prohibit teenagers from texting while driving and another seven states have a text messaging ban on drivers of all ages.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mississippi has led the nation for the last decade in the percentage of teenage driving fatalities with a rate of 35 deaths per 100,000 population. While some wireless carriers are opposed to any restrictions on cell phone use while driving, Cellular South strongly supports legislation that would impose a ban on text messaging for all drivers. Richmond said texting while driving is one of the many well-known and proven potential driving distractions along with drowsiness, personal grooming, eating and reading.
"We believe in safe, sensible and limited use of a cell phone when you're behind the wheel," Richmond said. "As a driver, your No. 1 priority should always be operating the vehicle safely and since texting clearly interferes with that ability, it should not be allowed," he added. "We hope the Legislature and Gov. Barbour will consider imposing a complete text messaging ban while driving for all motorists during next year's session."