Teen driver texting ban needed for better safety

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 23, 2009

Obtaining a driver’s license is a significant rite of passagefor nearly every young person.

In Mississippi, that process involves a three-step transitionfrom a learner’s permit at age 15 to unsupervised driving withincertain hours six months later to a full-fledged license at age16.

A bill pending in the Mississippi Legislature would tweak theminimum age for unsupervised driving from 15.5 years to 16 yearsand would establish a misdemeanor penalty for teens caught textingwhile driving. Both provisions, but especially the texting ban, areneeded.

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Talking on a cell phone is bad enough, but texting represents adangerous distraction for young drivers who are still learning therules of the road. Those drivers need to have their full attentionon the road and motorists around them – not letting their fingersdo the talking to find out the latest high school gossip.

Further evidence of the need for the texting ban is found in thefact that Mississippi ranks first in the last decade in thepercentage of teenage driving fatalities.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,the state rate was 35 deaths per 100,000 population. Of course, allof those cannot be attributed to distracted teens who were textingwhile driving.

But where the ban could have a lasting effect is in developing ahabit of not texting while driving.

If the ban encourages teens to pay more attention to the roadduring the year they are learning to drive, perhaps that habit willcarry over once they have obtained their full-fledged license Andthat will lead to safer roads for all members of the travelingpublic.