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South Mississippi police: Texting drivers beware

text_and_drive_22BILOXI — South Mississippi law enforcement officials say they will be ready to enforce the new law that bans motorists from texting while driving.

“All you’ve got to do is stand on a corner watching traffic or watching others while you drive, and you can see so many people with their hands on their phone, trying to get a text or send one,” Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell told The Sun Herald.

“If it will help save one life, it’s worth it. I think it’s good for everybody,” Ezell said. “Deputies won’t be allowed to do it, either.”

Effective July 1, it will cost you $25 if you’re caught reading, typing or sending a message on a hand-held mobile phone or other electronic device while operating a vehicle. The fine will increase to $100 on July 1, 2016.

Mississippi is the 45th state to ban texting while driving. Previously, the state banned texting only for new drivers under 18 and for school bus drivers.

“I’ve worked three texting fatalities myself,” Mississippi Highway Patrol Cpl. Benjamin Seibert said. “You hold that phone and you know their text was the last thing they saw before they crashed.”

The law will make it easier for police to stop drivers who are obviously distracted, said Gulfport police Sgt. Damon McDaniel, who’s spent 13 years as a motorcycle officer.

“It may take a while for people to catch on,” he said. “Years after the seat belt law went into effect, I would pull drivers over and they’d say, ‘You can’t stop me for that.'”

The wording of the law may bring a gray area, he said.

“If you are sitting at a red light and the vehicle is in gear, are you violating the law if you send a text?” ”I think we’ve got to work some bugs out,” he said. “It will be up to prosecutors and judges to be on the same page.”

Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara agreed, but said it will help get the attention of drivers who don’t stop texting when the red light turns green.

“They take off while texting, driving with knees against the steering wheel,” Brisolara said. “This has to stop.”

A texting ban could have prevented 95 deaths statewide from 2008 to 2012, according to a study in December by the Mississippi Center for Health Policy.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers these tips to avoid texting while driving:

» Put your phone where you can’t reach it.

» Turn off your notification alerts.

» Designate a passenger to send any texts necessary.



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