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Legislators, providers paying attention to cell phones, safe driving

Last year a bill to ban talking on cell phones while driving was defeated in the Legislature. No such bill has been introduced so far this year, spokesmen for the House of Representatives and the State Senate confirmed. Still, it is early in the 2008 session and possible such a bill will be filed.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, who has represented Hinds County since 1993, says he hears complaints all the time from constituents and law enforcement officials about drivers who have accidents that involve talking on cell phones.

“We did consider a bill last session but there was not enough support to pass it,” he said. “Many legislators thought it should be up to local governments, some would like to do it, and some thought it would be an infringement on individual rights to pass that restriction. That’s the same mentality used for years before the state seat belt law was passed.”

He notes that some states limit the use of cell phones for drivers under the age of 18 but find enforcement difficult.

Better chance this session?

With new members in both legislative chambers, Frazier says it’s possible the measure will stand a better chance of passing if it comes up this session.

“We will have to address it from a safety standpoint. Some of the phone companies promote hands-free talking and safety, and I think insurance companies should weigh in and be heard from too. They are stakeholders in public safety,” he said. “I’m in favor of anything that will save lives and protect property, and this is a step in the right direction.”

Industry invests in safety awareness

Cellular South’s spokesman Jim Richmond said the company will support whatever the legislative body agrees on and will be glad to offer insight and provide information as needed.

“We are strong advocates of safe driving and believe that driver education could be even more effective than legislation to change drivers’ behavior and help them drive more responsibly,” he said. “It is really important to target young drivers with a solid education program and teach them the basics such as never dial, text or take notes while driving.”

The company has promoted wireless safety throughout its 20-year history with various programs dedicated to teaching safe driving. Those include safety tips on its Web site and safety speeches to civic clubs in its service area.

“For a number of years, we pushed install kits for phones and over the last few years we have really pushed headsets including Bluetooth wireless headsets,” Richmond said. “Using these accessories will reduce the chance of accidents happening. We are currently working with a division of the State Department of Public Safety on a program teaching wireless safety in schools.”

Sue Sperry, spokeswoman for AT&T in Mississippi, has heard rumors that legislation will be introduced regarding the use of cell phones while driving.

“I think it’s something people expect,” she said. “We don’t feel we’re being picked on, but driving while distracted is the issue. People need to be more sensible and have safer habits. Even getting involved in heavy conversation with a passenger can be distracting.”

The company has a Web site devoted to safety, Be Safe Be Smart, that’s divided into three main areas for home phone, Internet and wireless. They are especially concerned about teenagers and promote a teen-parent contract on the Web site, along with a national Be Sensible Program and Text Connect to discourage texting while driving.

“We also go into schools with a program and have a guide on our Web site,” Sperry said. “Customers using our product safely are very important to us. They can use a hands-free device or a Bluetooth, and there is no reason to send a text message while driving.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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