Highway safety efforts fall short in Mississippi

| 3/21/2006

A bill has died in the Mississippi Senate that sought to provide funding for a training class for Mississippi Highway Patrol officers. The measure was among several highway safety-related bills that are no longer under consideration in the Legislature.

Sponsored by Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, the officer training bill called for appropriating $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.

The effort – HB211 – remained in the Senate Appropriations Committee March 14, which was the deadline to advance it to the full Senate. The House had previously approved it.

Several other highway safety bills also met their demise.

A pair of bills called for mandating a practice that is second nature to most truck drivers and other motorists. The legislation would have allowed 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 required lights to be on “whenever precipitation necessitates the use of windshield wipers.”

Another effort sought to 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 have prohibited 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 was located in front of the back of the driver’s seat or was visible to the driver – regardless of whether the device interferes with safe driving.

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

Rep. Margaret Ellis Rogers, D-New Albany, offered a bill intended to add a barrier of safety for drivers in the state. The measure – HB114 – would have required the installation of metal guardrails along and approaching bridge abutments.

Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Jackson, introduced a bill – HB16 – that required a person age 85 or older to renew their driver’s or operator’s license every two years.

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

Sponsored by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, SB2173 would have permitted 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 have been responsible for reporting the results of such a study to the Legislature by the end of the year.

The bills failed to meet various deadlines in their respective chambers, effectively killing them for the year.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor