No text is worth your life, and troopers of the South Carolina Highway Patrol are determined to save as many as they can with a mission this holiday week to curb texting-and-driving behind the wheel.
Troopers, in unmarked cars, will be looking for drivers distracted by cellphones on interstates and main highways across the state. Two drivers were found in violation along U.S. Highway 501 near the Tanger Outlet within minutes after 12:30 p.m. Monday.
“Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The South Carolina Legislature enacted a law on June 9, 2014, that makes it unlawful to text and drive.
Last year, SCHP issued 1,034 citations for texting and driving, according to a release from the S.C. Department of Public Safety.
“You can’t read, send or compose any type of text message while you’re driving a car,” SCHP Cpl. Sonny Collins said.
If they catch you, it’s a ticket and a $25 fine.
“We’re not so concerned about it being a big money fine. It’s $25, but what we’re concerned about is you getting to where you’re going alive and safe,” Collins said.
“It’s not that long text message that’s going to catch you,” Collins said Monday as he sat in his cruiser along U.S. 501. “It’s going to be that one time you’re just sending that one little word back and you look up and you’re on the wrong side of the road or traffic has stopped in front of you or something has happened in front of you that you now don’t have time to react to.”
Cellphone usage led to at least 72 collisions that injured 28 people in South Carolina in 2015, according to the latest statistics available in SCDPS’ Traffic Collision Fact Book.
Distracted driving killed 3,477 people that same year across the United States, the NHTSA notes on its website.
“Distracted driving is one of the most significant problems we see on our highways now,” said SCDPS Director Leroy Smith. “As technology in the vehicle grows, so does the temptation to look away for just a few seconds, which can — and does — have deadly consequences.”
SCHP chose Thanksgiving week for its “STOP Texting and Driving” enforcement initiative because of the increase in traffic volume and the chance for distractions during long trips. The campaign lasts through Sunday.
There were 16 highway deaths during the Thanksgiving travel period last year in the Palmetto State, according to the release.
“While driving long distances, it’s easy for drivers to become bored and reach for their phones,” SCHP Col. Chris Williamson said in a release. “Unfortunately, our troopers see the tragic results of these mistakes too often.”
In addition to distracted driving, troopers report that some of the primary violations they see during this time of year are failure to buckle up, speeding and impaired driving, according to the release. Officers will be looking for those violations, as well.
SCHP encourages motorists to ensure their vehicle is in good working condition, rest up before a long trip and take frequent breaks, the release states.
“There’s studies that show distracted driving and sleepy driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving,” Collins said.
Motorists are asked to report suspected impaired drivers to local law enforcement or call *HP (*47) and to move over for emergency vehicles and first responders to give them space to work safely.
Let a passenger send a text, Collins added. “Pull over in a parking lot to send a text if you need to, but don’t start that bad habit of doing it from behind the wheel.”