Statewide texting ban gains momentum, ‘sparkle’

jself@thestate.comMay 8, 2014 

  • Texting while driving

    Since 2010, 19 S.C. cities and towns — Beaufort, Bluffton, Clemson, Camden, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Greenwood, Greer, Fountain Inn, Hilton Head Island, Irmo, McCormick, Mount Pleasant, Ninety Six, Pendleton, Sumter, Walhalla and West Union — have passed laws banning texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. Two counties, Beaufort and Oconee, also have bans. The S.C. House and state Senate also have passed differing texting proposals, which legislators are trying to reconcile:

    Senate proposal

    •  Would ban drivers with a beginner or restricted licensed from using a cellphone to text or talk, except in emergencies or while parked or stopped.

    •  Would ban all drivers from using a cellphone or similar device while driving through a school zone when caution lights are flashing.

    •  Would fine first-offenders $75, plus court fees and a $25 fee that would go to the Trauma Care Fund; the fine increases $100 with each subsequent offense.

    House proposal

    •  Would ban using a “wireless electronic communication device to compose, send or read a text-based communication” while driving, except in emergencies, or while parked or stopped, or using a hands-free device.

    •  Would fine offenders from $25 to $50.

A statewide texting ban is gaining momentum with backing from the S.C. House, some Senate leaders and a bit of political “sparkle” — supplied by S.C. beauty queens.

Miss S.C. 2013 Brooke Mosteller came to the State House Wednesday with Miss Teen S.C. Brook Sill and dozens of other women vying for Mosteller’s crown this year, to sign a pledge not to text while driving.

Mosteller also urged lawmakers to pass a statewide texting ban this year, saying South Carolina is one of two states that has not passed any laws limiting the use of cellphones while driving.

Seventy-one percent of teens have composed a text message while driving, and 78 percent have read one, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Earlier Wednesday, state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, told a House education panel that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunken driving. The state needs to act, he said, because cities and counties in the state already are.

Nineteen cities and two counties have passed bans, including Greenville in January, Charleston in October, and Columbia and Irmo in 2011.

The S.C. Municipal Association and the S.C. Association of Counties support a statewide texting-while-driving ban, spokesmen with the organizations said.

As cities pass their own laws, what is legal and what is not changes over the course of a car ride, creating confusion for drivers and law enforcement trying to enforce the laws, said Josh Rhodes with the Association of Counties. Some local laws bar talking on the phone while driving. Others allow texting only while sitting at a stop light.

Mosteller put the problem another way: “Everyone’s a little bit confused, you know?”

The House education panel Wednesday considered a Senate bill sponsored by Rankin and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, the Democratic candidate for governor. The Senate-passed bill would ban all use of electronic communication devices for all beginner and restricted drivers. All drivers also would be banned from texting while moving through school zones when caution lights are flashing.

But the House panel replaced that Senate proposal with a broader texting-ban that passed the House in April, a move endorsed by Sheheen and Rankin.

“There is no single action that the (General Assembly) can take that can save more lives and prevent more tragedy than passing a ban on texting while driving,” Sheheen said.

The House-passed texting ban would prohibit using a “wireless electronic communication device to compose, send or read a text-based communication” while driving. The bill would allow texting with hands-free devices, while parked or stopped, or for emergencies.

The House’s ban would apply to all drivers, but the penalties are “watered down,” said state Rep. Josh Putnam, R-Anderson.

Violators would face a fine of $25, or up to $50 if police can prove the person was texting more than once. By comparison, $25 is the fine for not wearing a seat belt.

To make a charge, police would have to have a clear, unobstructed view that a driver is texting. Police would not be allowed to search or seize a cellphone, or require a driver to give up the device.

Lawmakers joining Mosteller at the State House noted the state has tried and failed to pass a texting ban for at least four years.

But 2014 is the year to pass a ban, Mosteller said, playfully punching her uncle, state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, in the shoulder. “Sometimes things just need a little bit of sparkle.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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