• TheDMonline.com Staff Member?
  • Log In
Share |

Texting while driving a problem in Oxford

Photo Illustration by Petre Thomas

The Ole Miss student body seems to have missed Dexter McCluster’s plea to not text and drive.

A recent poll conducted by The Daily Mississippian found that nearly half of all respondents text while driving, an additional 24 percent only text at stop lights and another 24 percent talk on the phone but don’t text. Only 6 percent of those polled do not use a cell phone at all while driving. There were 123 respondents to the poll.

Most students seem to acknowledge the dangers inherent with distracted driving, but many are still comfortable enough to do it anyway.

“It’s very dangerous,” managerial finance senior Bo Windham said. “I text and drive more often than I should, but I try to do it when I know that there are no cars around me for a few hundred yards.”

Some students, such as Windham, said they use different tactics to minimize the risk involved with texting and driving. Ann Atkinson, an accountancy senior from Memphis, said she also tries to be careful about when or where she does text.

“I try to just do it at stop signs and stop lights,” she said. “But when I am driving, I definitely don’t look down for more than a second.”

Despite the efforts by students to be careful about texting while driving, studies have shown that texting invariably lowers the ability of drivers to cope with encounters on the road.

One such study, by the Texas Institute of Transportation, found drivers’ reaction times slowed from one to two seconds to more than three to four seconds. At highway speeds, two and a half seconds is enough for a car to travel the length of a football field without the driver ever looking up. Another study taken by Car and Driver Magazine found that individuals who text while driving have slower reaction times than drivers who are legally drunk.

It is findings like these that have caught the attention of Mississippi State Representative Tommy Reynolds. 

Reynolds, who has served in the Mississippi Legislature since 1980, said the evidence suggests a need for legislation to prevent drivers from texting and driving in Mississippi.

“I think it’s something that we’re going to have to try to address,” he said. “We’re going to need to study it and do a proper and deliberate approach. But I do think that it’s an issue that we need to give more attention to.”

Currently, Mississippi is one of only 16 states that does not have a law prohibiting drivers from texting while driving a vehicle. A bill was passed through the Mississippi Senate that would have banned texting while driving, but it never reached the floor of the House of Representatives for a final vote.

Even if the state was to pass legislation that prohibits drivers from texting behind the wheel, it is clear many people feel it is an acceptable risk and would continue to do it anyway.

“It wouldn’t make that much of a difference if it was illegal,” Atkinson said. “I would still text if necessary.”

Another student, Coby Virtue of Pinehurst, N.C., said he doesn’t think texting and driving is necessarily dangerous in all cases. Instead, he said it depends on who the person doing the texting is.

“I think there are lots of people on the road who shouldn’t be driving anyway,” Virtue said. “So I think for a competent driver who knows when it’s appropriate to text while driving, it’s absolutely fine.”

Even if legislation was passed, the difficulty of identifying offenders would make the issue hard to enforce. Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin said his department simply looks for careless driving to enforce distracted driving laws instead of looking for specific behaviors.

“(Careless driving) clearly covers any type of distracted driving in that if you fail to drive your vehicle in a controlled manner, such as crossing over center line, running off the road etc., you are carelessly driving your vehicle,” he said. “This is much easier to enforce.”

On both a local and national level, there has been an emphasis placed on raising driver awareness about the dangers involved with texting while driving. 

Cellular South commissioned former University of Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster to film a music video denouncing the practice. The U.S. Department of Transportation even created a website dedicated to distracted driving.

The willingness to text and drive has not been limited to Oxford. A recent study conducted by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that texting while driving has deceased in every region of the country except the South.

Mississippians have historically been reluctant to accept regulation, according to Reynolds. When the seatbelt law was finally passed in 1994, it was one of only five states left in the country without a seatbelt law. 

However, with proper education of the public and the judiciary, Reynolds said this issue will very likely see some sort of legislation passed in the near future.

“I think this can certainly be considered an idea whose time has come,” Reynolds said. “Too much regulation is a bad thing. But at the end of the day, we do need to look after the lives and safety of the people.”