Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are roughly 20,000 car accidents every year in Mississippi. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that takes your focus off the primary task of driving. The three main types of distractions are:
Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror, or looking at kids in the backseat
Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming
Most distracted driving is perfectly legal, but it should be kept at a minimum because it still increases your risk of being in an accident. Currently, Mississippi’s laws focus only on the risks posed by texting while driving, leaving many other distractions unchecked.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Mississippi
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Mississippi:
In 2014, Mississippi became one of the last states to pass a bill outlawing texting while driving.
About 75% of all MS drivers questioned admitted to using their cell phones for voice calls while driving.
A staggering 46% admitted to texting while driving – the highest rate of any state in the country.
Though many do it themselves, 90% of Mississippi drivers questioned agreed that those caught texting while driving should be penalized.
Mississippi also has the highest rate of collision-related fatalities in the nation.
Does Mississippi Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
Mississippi currently prohibits:
Reading, writing, or sending text messages while operating a moving vehicle
Using social media while operating a moving vehicle
Bus drivers from using a cell phone, even hands-free, at any time that a minor is on board.
Mississippi has also established a Preemption Law that prevents local municipalities from enacting their own distracted driving laws in their areas.
Mississippi compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona, leaving only Montana left to make a move.
Are There Any Exceptions to Mississippi's Distracted Driving Laws?
But only one. Sending and receiving texts is only allowed if you're using hands-free voice-to-text technology. In this case, you're allowed to use your hands only to activate, deactivate, or initiate the hands-free feature.
Mississippi Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
* The law as written refers only to “a moving motor vehicle.” This may be open to interpretation, so use caution if you text while stopped at a light or in traffic.
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Mississippi?
Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone.
So, what happens if a police officer in Mississippi sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.
But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, so it's better to avoid as many as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at a citation.
So unless you're really in a hurry, you're better off eating your Whopper indoors or in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
Mississippi uses primary enforcement.
This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer sees you texting or FaceTiming while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.
What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Mississippi?
In 2016, the state of Mississippi quadrupled its fines for distracted driving violations in order not only to deter this hazardous behavior, but also to give law enforcement agencies more incentive to penalize distracted drivers.
Currently, the penalties for a distracted driving citation in Mississippi are:
For adult drivers, each violation has a fine of $100.
For minors and drivers with a learner’s permit, the fine can be up to $500.
For bus drivers, the fine can be up to $500.
In the event that the driver causes an accident with injuries while violating the state’s distracted driving law, the fine is $1,000.
Mississippi’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states
So be careful if you head into Louisiana, getting caught there will really cost you!
Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Mississippi Increase Insurance Rates?
Distracted driving is considered a civil violation rather than a moving violation in Mississippi. For that reason, there's a good chance your insurance company won't even know about the infraction.
But if you commit a moving violation or cause an accident while texting or browsing the Internet, your insurance company is likely to find out, and that’s when the rate hikes come into play.
Mississippi residents see their car insurance go up an average of $446 a year following a distracted driving citation that's been reported to their insurance company. This is much higher than the national average.
And if you have a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!
Let’s face it: Mississippi is a bit behind the times when it comes to distracted driving laws. Many neighboring states, such as Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, have already established partial bans on the use of handheld devices. These bans often apply to active school and work zones and, in some cases, have been instituted by local governments within city limits.
And every state that shares a border with Mississippi has restrictions on cell phone use by minors. This means that although your 17-year-old can legally talk on the phone while driving in Mississippi, as soon as they cross the border into any other state, they'll be breaking the law unless they end their call immediately and put down the phone.
What's Mississippi Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?
Although Mississippi has distracted driving laws, they are pretty weak when compared to many other states. And law enforcement tends to be very lax when it comes to citing drivers for distracted driving. In 2016, fewer than 100 tickets were issued.
Governor Phil Bryant approved increasing fines for distracted driving citations in 2015 in the hope that it would lead to stronger enforcement of the ban on texting while driving, but it fell short and only 95 tickets for this infraction were issued in 2016.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.