State physicians, law enforcement applaud texting law

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> RIDGELAND, MISS-Beginning Wednesday Mississippi drivers will be prohibited from using cellphones to send text messages while driving. That’s the effective date of the new law pushed by Mississippi physicians.
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> Physician members of the Mississippi State Medical Association and the Mississippi Academy of Pediatrics see the texting ban as a way to reduce accidents and save lives. Physicians testified on the dangers of distracted driving and urged lawmakers to ban the use of cell phones while behind the wheel – and the legislature listened. Senators referenced the professional testimony of physicians, specifically MSMA President Claude Brunson, MD, as one reason the historic bill was passed.
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> “We’ve heard from Dr. Brunson who told us it’s a proven fact passing this bill could immediately save lives,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland. “This will take us into the 21st century in terms of safety.”
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> “Our state’s doctors want this to happen; they’ve viewed firsthand that texting while driving can be deadly,” added Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula. “We should listen to them and view the evidence proving this is the right thing to do.”
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> “On behalf of nearly 5,000 MSMA physicians and medical students, I thank members of the Legislature for taking this important step in creating safer roads for all of us,” said Dr. Brunson. “Too many Mississippians have been injured and killed in vehicle crashes that would have been prevented had the driver not been distracted by texting or viewing messages on their cellular phones. Finally, we applaud Gov. Phil Bryant for signing this important legislation.”
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> In March Gov. Bryant signed Senate Bill 389, creating a civil offense of texting while driving. The law carries an initial $25 fine escalating to $50 for subsequent violations through July 1, 2016. Then the fine increases to $100. Brunson called the governor’s action “one of the most important deterrents to preventable accidents and deaths on the state’s roads.”
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> Lt. Johnny Poulos of the Mississippi Highway Patrol said state troopers on a daily basis view motorists texting while driving. Adherence to the new law will mean fewer accidents in which vehicles are rear-ended, fewer destructive crashes and fewer deaths, he said.
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> “One of our biggest problems is that many drivers don’t equate their cell phone with death; but rather, they view it as an entertainment device,” Poulos said. “Texting while driving causes distracted and irresponsible driving which in turn causes crashes that can lead to serious injury and death.”
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> Lt. Poulos confirmed that during the two seconds needed to view and process a text, a motorist can travel the length of a football field. By then it’s often too late to practice defensive driving techniques like braking or steering before crashing into another vehicle.
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> “A motorist is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash while texting than those who are not,” he said. “The human brain is just not that fast. The data is irrefutable and defeats the mistaken perception by some, particularly teen drivers, that they are adept at texting while operating a vehicle.”
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> Poulos added that besides saving lives, MHP officials anticipate a decrease in non-fatal accidents attributed to texting while driving. Besides the obvious benefits, a reduction in traffic accidents will free troopers to practice pro-active measures such as assisting motorists. However, state troopers don’t anticipate full cooperation with the new law within the first months of implementation.
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> “Similar to when the seat belt law passed, we realize Mississippians will have to get acclimated to the change in their driving habits,” said Poulos. “Despite this, we’re hopeful the new law will be a huge deterrent to motorists of any age from getting behind the wheel and endangering their and others’ lives through careless and distracted driving of any kind, especially through cell phone use. Our number one priority is for everyone to make it home safely.”
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> Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance echoed Lt. Poulos’ statements, adding that officers in the state’s largest city will be vigilant in enforcing the law designed to save lives.
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> “It’s a proven fact that texting while driving is problematic when someone is trying to control their vehicle,” said Vance. “The new law is a huge step forward for the state; a very important one. The passage of the law proves to skeptics that texting and driving is off the charts dangerous. We will continue to do everything we can to keep everyone safe, including motorists.”
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