Highway safety efforts draw consideration in Mississippi

| 1/11/2006

Mississippi lawmakers returned to the capital city this past week and among items drawing consideration are efforts related to highway safety.

The House unanimously approved a bill that would provide funding for a training class of Highway Patrol officers. The effort – HB211 – now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Sponsored by Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, the bill would appropriate $3 million to equip and train at least 50 new troopers.

The number of uniformed patrol officers in the state has declined in recent years with troopers serving in Iraq and many others nearing retirement. In addition, there has been only one graduating class of new troopers in the past four years.

A pair of bills would mandate a practice that is second nature to most truckers and other motorists.

The legislation would allow police to ticket drivers who fail to flip on their headlights during bad weather.

Sponsored by Sen. Sidney Albritton, R-Picayune, and Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, the bills would require lights to be on “whenever precipitation necessitates the use of windshield wipers.”

Under HB357 and SB2331, violators would face a $25 fine.

Another effort would clearly forbid drivers from watching television, movies or other video displays while behind the wheel.

Sponsored by Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, the bill – HB325 – would prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying live or recorded television, cable or satellite broadcasts, DVDs or video games that is located within the driver’s view if it’s located in front of the back of the driver’s seat or is visible to the driver – regardless of whether the device interferes with safe driving.

The restriction wouldn’t apply to dashboard readouts or other displays of information about a vehicle’s operation, conduct or navigation.

Rep. Margaret Rogers, D-New Albany, has offered a bill that is intended to add a barrier of safety for drivers in the state.

The measure – HB114 – would require the installation of metal guard rails along and approaching bridge abutments.

Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Jackson, has introduced a bill – HB16 – that would require people 85 or older to renew their driver’s or operator’s licenses every two years.

Another measure could result in drivers seeing advertisements along roadways in the state.

Sponsored by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, SB2173 would permit the Mississippi Transportation Commission to conduct a study on the feasibility of selling advertisements to be painted on the pavement of highways maintained by the transportation department. The commission would report the results of such a study to the Legislature by the end of the year.

The trooper bill is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The other bills are in their respective transportation panels.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor