MS troopers on the lookout for distracted drivers

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - If you're the driver who sometimes swerves because you're talking on the phone, sending text message or adjusting the radio, you may soon see some blue lights behind you. The Mississippi Highway Patrol launched its "Pay Attention or Pay A Fine" campaign in Oxford today but will expand it statewide.

It was at the intersection of Jim Money and Pass Roads in Biloxi that on Thursday Wendell Liskow says his car was nearly slammed into by a driver who was distracted.

"Never gave me a glance," said Liskow. "She had a phone to her ear and she had run the red light. Luckily I saw her and stopped in time."

For the "Pay Attention or Pay A Fine" campaign, troopers will be in unmarked cars on the lookout for people who are driving carelessly, while eating, adjusting the radio, talking, texting and such. Troopers will pass on that information to uniformed troopers who will pull over drivers and give them warnings or possibly tickets.

Peggy Penn likes the idea. "It's getting to a serious point. You're driving straight down the road and here comes a car and they're coming into your lane. Sometimes you have to swing over a little bit. It's always because they're on the phone or they're texting. I see a lot of texting."

"I think there should be a law against texting and there should be a law against talking on the phone while you're driving," said Michael Woodhouse. "Because that's distracting people while you're driving. It's very dangerous. It's already killed people and caused a lot of accidents."

Troopers say distracted driver accidents are becoming more problematic. According to the United States Transportation Department 3,000 people died in distracted driving related accidents in 2011.

Some drivers said cell phone use can be done safely if traffic isn't moving.

"If I'm texting and driving it might be if the vehicle is stopped and I'm waiting for traffic," said Scott Patterson.

"It's to everybody that's on the road. The people that don't text or don't talk on the phone and drive are just as much in danger as the people that are doing it," said Woodhouse..

However, Marcella Covacevich said she doesn't pick up her phone. "I leave it to ring or if I'm at a place where I can pull over then I pull over the car and then talk on the phone. I'll call back if they leave a message but I don't drive and talk on the phone."

Troopers said because some people have driven while distracted many times and arrived safely at their destinations, they think warnings don't apply to them.

We talked to some people who had moved to Mississippi from New York where drivers are prohibited from using electronic devices while driving.

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