If ever there was a “no-brainer,” this was it.
During the recently-ended 2014 Mississippi legislative session, Columbus Rep. Gary Chism proposed a bill that would make texting and driving illegal.
Most observers assumed the bill would easily pass and head to the governor, where it would be signed into law.
Instead, in the final hours of the session, the bill was killed in a voice vote, even though earlier in the session both chambers had passed the bill by wide margins.
So, at least for another year, Mississippi will remain one of only seven states where driver can feel free to text and drive with the implied sanction of the state.
What we can learn from this is that there unless there is some language in a bill that includes protection for God or guns, there is no “sure thing” as far as our Legislature is concerned.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates drivers’ risk of crashing increases by four times when they are talking on a phone, and says the increase may be greater when a driver is texting. In fact, some studies indicate that texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving.
The measure would have banned drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages or reading or posting on social media using a mobile phone. It set a fine of $25 per violation until July 1, 2015, and $100 after that.
Why the opposition?
Believe it or not, some legislators cited the increasingly flimsy argument that a ban on texting and driving would infringe on individual liberty. It’s an absurd defense, obviously, and one that would call into question any number of laws that limit personal freedom when those freedoms infringe of the safety and welfare of others.
Others say there is no way the law can be consistently enforced and while there is some truth in that, passing these kinds of laws create a consistent message.
After all, you could make the same argument about seatbelt laws when they were first enacted. Today, far more people wear seatbelts than when those laws were first enacted, not because there were laws on the books, but because those laws reinforced the widely-held belief that wearing seatbelts helps prevent serious injury or death.
Eventually, of course, the state will adopt a ban on texting and driving. While such a law will not prevent people from texting and driving entirely, it will communicate a consistent message that texting and driving is dangerous.
Like seatbelt laws, texting bans will not change behavior by itself. But the law will raise awareness. Sometimes, that’s the most important part of the process.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.