Stricter texting bill makes way to House panel

Published 9:23 am Friday, January 9, 2015

Mississippi motorists will risk receiving a traffic ticket if they send any “omw” messages or check their Facebook status if the first bill filed by Warren County’s legislative delegation becomes law.

Filed Tuesday by state Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, House Bill 41 extends a ban on texting while driving to all licensed drivers. Currently, state law bans sending messages on a cellphone only for novice drivers, such as those with a learner’s permit.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

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As filed, the bill prohibits writing, sending or reading a text message or a message on a social networking site. Penalties for violations start at $25 and rise to $100 after July 1, 2016. That scale is cheaper than the fines to which novices are subject, which range from $500 to $1,000. Language in the bill does not address enforcement mechanisms. Current law says an officer must note on traffic citations the use of a cellphone during accidents if the situation applies.

A bill that would have banned texting while driving for all drivers had passed both the state House and Senate in 2014, but died on the House calendar at session’s end. Texting and driving is already banned in 44 states, though Mississippi is among four that bans it only for novices.

Current law exempts certain professions and situations from the ban. That list includes law enforcement and fire safety personnel, ambulance drivers, anyone reporting reckless or negligent behavior, people sending a message while their vehicle is parked, certain medical functions, call center repair personnel and people reporting traffic information.

No schedule has been set for further debate on the bill.