Many states across the U.S. have made laws about the use of mobile devices like cell phones while driving. Some of these have banned cell phone use outright. Others have just banned texting while driving. Others have allowed hands free devices only. And then there are a few states, including Arizona, but not Mississippi, that have essentially no cell phone rules at all.
Mississippi’s cell phone laws have been strengthened in recent years. For a long time, they were very lax compared to other states. In fact, even as recently as 2014, the state was one of a small number of states with no cell phone laws. This has now changed. You are not allowed to text while driving in Mississippi. If you are a bus driver and have at least one minor on board or a learner driver you cannot use a cell phone at all. There is no hands free law in Mississippi at this time, so theoretically you can still use your cell phone for making voice calls or receiving them while you drive. The law in this regard makes the state still less rigorous than some other states like New York that bans the use of hand held devices completely, but still allows hands free devices.
Mississippi’s cell phone laws have come under a lot of pressure to change in the last few years. This has come from pressure groups traditionally concerned with road safety as well as from the police, who have lobbied for stricter distracted driving legislation and stiffer penalties. As of July 1st 2016, any driver caught texting or using their device for a social media application while driving faces a $100 fine. Fines are higher for bus drivers and learner drivers, up to $500. If someone is injured as a result of an incident involving a driver who was texting or communicating by social media when driving then the fine leaps to $1,000.
Actual citations have been very low. The number of citations for texting while driving in 2016 was less than 100 across the state. This seems to be much lower than might be expected and partly reflects the fact that it is actually quite hard to catch a driver in the act of texting while driving and yet the consequences of doing so are enormous. It was hoped that when the fines increased in 2016 that there may be more incentive for law enforcers to be more vigilant about infringements.
Distracted driving in Mississippi is still an important reason for accidents. This is widely recognized by drivers themselves. Three quarters of Mississippi drivers have admitted that they have used their cell phone while driving for voice calls and 35% admit to texting while driving. Despite the fact that the practice is widespread, 90% of drivers in one survey agreed that the law must penalize anyone caught texting while driving. It’s as if everyone knows that it is wrong and is unsafe, but can’t stop themselves from temptation.
Advice to drivers is to turn their cell phone off before driving then turn it back on again when at the destination or in a safe place like a parking lot or pull out. If you are a driver who is likely to be tempted to answer their cell phone if a message comes through or the phone rings, then it can be put in the trunk. Alternatively, leave a voicemail message explaining you are currently unobtainable because you are driving. That sends a useful message to other potential drivers, too!
The accident rate linked to distracted driving is sobering reading. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 10% of fatalities on U.S. highways and 17% of serious vehicle related injuries are caused by distracted driving. Although there are various reasons why a driver might be distracted (a buzzing bee inside the car?), the use of cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices must be the number one cause of distracted driving accidents.
Even if the state law now prohibits texting while driving and may in the near future go further, it doesn’t stop drivers from causing accidents. If you have been injured by a distracted driver, whether the driver was breaking a state law or not, you may be able to bring a civil claim against the driver if you and your attorney can prove negligence. It is best to contact a distracted driving accident attorney in Jackson as soon as you can after an injury caused by a distracted driver, as your memory will be clearer and witnesses and other evidence that can support your claim will be easier to find.
Contact the Diaz Law Firm by phone on 601-607-3456 to arrange a free consultation.