Mississippi’s limited distracted driving laws leaves motorists in danger

The National Safety Council has estimated that over one-quarter of all crashes, or more than 1 million crashes per year, involve cellphone use. General phone use is the most common cause of these car accidents, though texting is perhaps the most high-profile cause. Unfortunately, this spring, Mississippi remained among the seven states that have failed to legally address texting, let alone other forms of phone use. This decision may leave Hernando drivers exposed to needless accidents and injuries.

Life-saving effects of laws

Critics of texting bans and other laws regulating driver cellphone use contend that these laws are not effective in reducing traffic fatalities. Some critics also believe that these laws interfere with driver's personal freedoms. However, drivers owe a duty of care to other motorists, which means they must operate their vehicles prudently, and a new study indicates that legal bans can have life-saving effects.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham study reviewed data that was collected in 48 states over a decade and recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. According to the Washington Post, the study concluded the following:

  • Primary texting bans for all drivers reduce fatal accidents by 3 percent across all age groups. This translates to 18 to 19 lives saved per year in each state.
  • Texting bans that are supplemented with handheld cellphone bans offer even more significant safety gains.
  • Texting bans targeting younger drivers and have a significant effect among the targeted population; they reduce deaths among that age group by as much as 11 percent.

These findings show that a Mississippi law banning texting and driving could start substantially reducing fatal accidents among the adult driving population. Presumably, such a law could help lower the number of milder accidents too. Unfortunately, earlier this year, Mississippi failed to pass a ban.

Lack of new laws

Mississippi residents show support for bans on texting; a poll conducted in 2014 revealed that 93 percent of residents would like to see texting while driving addressed legally, according to USA Today. Many state lawmakers also support these bans. Still, over the last few years, several attempts to enact a ban have failed.

Earlier this year, Mississippi's House and Senate independently introduced bills that would ban texting and driving, according to USA Today. The Senate bill passed the House with amendments. The House bill was revised to target all drivers, rather than just drivers under age 18, and it was finally chosen as the bill that would be passed on to the conference committee. However, the committee overwhelmingly chose not to pass it.

The early support for both bills, combined with the fact that one bill nearly became law, offers some hope for the next legislative session. Still, USA Today reports that, with elections ahead next year, legislators might be reluctant to take on texting laws and other contentious issues. Sadly, this means state residents will continue missing out on the lifesaving benefits that laws limiting driver cellphone use offer.

Anyone who has been hurt or lost a loved one in an accident involving a distracted driver should strongly consider meeting with an attorney to discuss pursuing compensation.