Authorities support auto cellphone limits

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, January 19, 2012

With a society that is becoming more andmore attached to electronic devices, cellphone usage while invehicles has become an increasingly bigger subject.

    Currently, Mississippi’s electronic ban is limited to thosecarrying a learning permit or an intermediate license and prohibitsthe sending or reading of written messages while driving. There isalso a ban prohibiting bus drivers from using a cellphone atall.

    However, for the majority of drivers in Mississippi, there is noban at all.

    Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said some form of ban wouldmake the roads safer. He said the most dangerous form of cellphoneusage would be texting and driving because it causes the driver tohave his or her eyes away from the road.

    “That split second you look off the road, that’s how an accidentcould happen,” he said.

    Brookhaven Chief of Police Pap Henderson took a harder stance andsaid all usage has a negative impact on driving.

    “It causes a lot of accidents to happen and a lot of accidents toalmost happen,” he said.

    In the wake of publicity about accidents as a result of distracteddriving, more legislative efforts are being pursued to curb textingand cellphone usage while driving. Public support for suchrestrictions appears to be increasing.

    According to a recent unscientific poll on www.dailyleader.com,results showed that 89 percent of voters wanted some kind of ban.The breakdown was 26 percent for a full ban on all cellphone usagewhile driving, 24 percent for a texting ban and 39 percent for ahand-held devices ban that would still allow for hands-freeusage.

    Rushing and Henderson agreed that is hard to know just how manyaccidents cellphones cause.

    Henderson said the reason is because people will not admit thatthey were using a cellphone. Even though there are not statistics,Rushing said law enforcement still sees that it is a major impacton driving.

    “You can get more involved in a conversation than in your driving,”he said.

    Rushing said he has had situations when he has pulled people overbecause they seemed to be driving impaired, and the drivers wasjust talking on the cellphone.

    Even though cellphones are becoming the biggest distraction withdrivers, he also said things such as radios can cause similardriving hazards.

    “Anything you have your attention on in the vehicle while driving,it takes away your concentration,” he said. “You think you have awide-open road and then you’re in a ditch.”

    The sheriff said the biggest problem is with the under-21crowd.

    He estimated that nine times out of 10 this age group is textingand not talking. Rushing added this was particularly dangerousbecause this is the least-experienced driving group.

    Henderson said he thinks that everyone should avoid usingcellphones while driving, including law enforcement. He adviseddrivers to pull over before using a cellphone.

    The chief added that the problem is caused by the feeling of anecessity to have a cellphone at all times.

    “We’ve gotten so lazy,” he said. “We depend on it.”

    Rushing said he is not against the use of Bluetooth devices. Hesaid it is similar to talking to someone in the car, and it allowsthe driver’s hands to be free.