February 3, 2011 11:41:00 AM
JACKSON - The Mississippi Senate on Thursday passed a bill to ban texting while driving, despite several lawmakers'' concerns about how such a measure would be enforced.
Only two senators voted against the bill - Republican Sens. Merle Flowers of Southaven and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville. The bill now goes to the House, where similar legislation died last year.
Mississippi passed a law in 2009 that banned young drivers from texting while behind the wheel. The proposal approved Thursday in the Senate is similar, but would apply to all drivers. A violation would be a misdemeanor and bring a $500 fine. If an accident occurred as a result of texting while driving, the fine would be $1,000, said Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, D-Oxford.
Several of the lawmakers questioned how law officers could distinguish between a motorist making a cell phone call or typing a text message.
Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said he also was concerned about privacy issues. He said a law officer could read a person''s text message after an individual was pulled over.
"Are they going to confiscate your cell phone for evidence? We''re leaving too much stuff up to the executive branch. You''re liable to have different (law officers) doing different things all over the state," Brown said.
Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, urged support of the bill. Jones held up a newspaper article about one of his friends who was killed in an accident authorities said was caused by a driver who was suspected of texting.
"The truth of the matter is people are dying because we''ve got young people out there every day who are choosing to send a message when they should be looking at the highway," Jones said.
So far, 31 states have banned texting while driving, said Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg. Hudson said research showed motorists who take their eyes off the road for six seconds while driving 55 miles per hour could travel 100 yards. That''s enough time to "cross lanes and hit someone head-on," he said.
Hudson had filed an unsuccessful bill this session that would have outlawed cell phone use altogether while driving. The bill died in committee.
"This bill is not a cell phone bill, but I feel like we must start somewhere," Hudson said.