Proposal for stricter texting and driving laws

Proposal for stricter texting and driving laws
Texting and driving now illegal in Mississippi.

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - State officials are urging lawmakers to make adjustments to Mississippi's two-year-old texting and driving law.  Officials said the law, which went into effect in July 2015, is too complicated to enforce with a minor penalty.

"It's an epidemic and it's going to continue to grow," Master Sgt. Brent Barfield said.  "Until people realize a text is not as important as your life."

The law bans drivers from texting and posting to social media outlets while behind the wheel.

Mississippi Highway Patrol said it is difficult for troopers to prove a driver is doing just that.

"Its very, very hard to prove that someone is on a cell phone," Barfield said. "It is one of those things that we have to make sure we know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they were texting or accessing social media at the time of the incident."

Department of Public Safety General Counsel Trae Sims said there needs to be two main adjustments to the current law.

The first, would be a "hands-free" rule. Sims said that would give law enforcement the opportunity to enforce the law better.

Sims said the second adjustment would be to change the penalty.

Right now, a texting citation is a civil penalty, not criminal, with a $100 fine.

This citation cannot be filed in Municipal Court. Sims said if there was a criminal penalty, around 300 municipalities across the state could enforce the law.

"Any other moving violation in the state of Mississippi is a misdemeanor crime and this needs to be a misdemeanor crime to have the same effect," Sims said.

Since the law went into effect in 2015, Mississippi Highway Patrol has issued 148 texting citations, 95 of those in 2016.

In comparison, Sgt. Barfield said MHP has issued over 1,000 careless or reckless driving citations.

"When you get that ticket and you have to go pay that fine and it hits your driving record or may have insurance implications, its all part of the deterrent effect. I think most drivers that have been drivers for any length of time understand those ramifications," Sims said.