Despite strong national efforts to curb distracted driving, an estimate 421,000 people in the U.S. are injured in accidents blamed on distracted driving each year. Another 3,000 individuals a year are killed in accidents involving a distracted driver. Text messaging is known to be the most dangerous form of distracted driving, as it pulls the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. While five seconds may not seem like much time, when that five seconds occurs while driving a 2,500-4,000 pound vehicle at 40 plus miles per hour, on possibly crowded roadways, the results can be deadly.
Bobbie Ward experienced first-hand the tragic consequences of distracted driving. Her daughter, Leigh Anne, went out for a bit and told her parents she would be home by 4:00 p.m. The doorbell rang at around 4:30 that evening, but it wasn’t Leigh Anne at the door. It was someone telling Bobbie Ward and her husband that Leigh Anne had been in an accident. A distracted driver pummeled her vehicle so hard it knocked the car up into a tree. Leigh Anne died in the accident, and the distracted driver is serving six years for reckless driving. The Wards have now become starch proponents for stronger laws concerning texting and driving in Mississippi.
Currently, it is illegal for 15 and 16 year olds to text while driving in Mississippi. No laws exist banning adult drivers from texting and driving. Mississippi’s distracted driving laws are considered some of the weakest in the nation. Many more states have taken a harsh stance on texting while driving, banning the practice amongst all drivers. Still others have prohibited the use of any technology equipment while driving, including talking on the cell phone. The Wards support passage of such a law, as do several community leaders.
Last legislative session, 12 bills that would have strengthened Mississippi’s texting while driving laws failed to gain traction. This year, there is viable legislation gathering support from both sides of the aisle. Representative Robert Johnson III is the chair of the Transportation Committee, and has fought for stricter texting while driving laws for years. Johnson believes distracted driving is more dangerous than drunk driving, leading to more accidents overall. Despite Johnson’s efforts, reform has not occurred. Representative Gary Chism states legislation failed to pass due to concerns of too much government intervention. As he put it, citizens are tired of the government telling them what they can and cannot do.
This year, however, change may be coming. Rep. Chism, a Republican, is working with Rep. Johnson to pass a bipartisan bill. House Bill 484 would make it illegal for anyone 18 and under to text and drive. While the bill does not go as far as some others would like, it is lauded as a step in the right direction.
The Senate is also making progress towards stricter texting while driving laws. Senate Bill 2434 states that anyone caught texting while driving can be charged with careless driving and fined up to $50.00. The bill will also go to the House floor for more discussion.
Until the Governor signs anything into law, texting while driving is apt to continue on Mississippi roadways, much to the heartbreak of the Wards and all other family members who have lost a loved one to distracted driving.
At Giddens Law Firm, we understand the tragic consequences of distracted driving. Our firm fights for justice for those injured in accidents involving distracted driving, and for the families of those who have lost a loved one due to this dangerous practice. Call Giddens Law Firm today at (601) 355-2022 to speak with one of our knowledgeable Mississippi Automobile Accident Attorneys.