Editorial | It’s time for South Carolina to enact texting ban

Texting teens

By the numbers

The other morning on southbound U.S. 17 Bypass in Myrtle Beach, a small, brown car nearly ran into another vehicle in the left-turn lane at 29th Avenue North. Seconds after her near miss, the young woman driver was texting away on her phone.

The erratic move of the brown car in the direction of the other vehicle illustrates why Sen. Luke Rankin of Horry County told a S.C. House subcommittee that texting while driving can be more dangerous than driving while impaired by alcohol. The motorist who’s had too much to drink typically may drift to the left or the right; the texter is twitchy in driving, as illustrated by the sudden move of the brown car on 17 Bypass.

South Carolina has failed to enact a texting ban for at least four years. Montana, way out West, is the only other state without some kind of ban on texting while driving. Like Montana cowboys, many S.C. residents harbor a streak of opposition to limitations.

We are all for individual rights, whether guaranteed by the First Amendment or the Second Amendment, but there is no right to text while driving. No way, no how. Texting while driving a motor vehicle clearly puts at risk the lives of others, just as does driving under the influence. Sen. Rankin is a sponsor of a bill, passed in the Senate, that would ban all use of electronic communications devices for all beginner and restricted drivers.

The House has passed a much broader texting ban. It would prohibit all drivers from using a “wireless electronic communication device to compose, send or read a text-based communication.’’ Rankin and the co-sponsor of his Senate bill have endorsed replacing their bill with the House version, according to a report by Jamie Self of The State newspaper in Columbia. The House version allows “texting with hands-free devices, while parked or stopped, or for emergencies.’’

Brooke Mosteller, Miss South Carolina 2013 and niece of Sen. Chip Campsen, Isle of Palms, was among scores of S.C. pageant contestants who visited legislators in Columbia and urged passage of a law prohibiting texting while driving, and seeking signatures on a pledge not to text while driving. Such pledges are supported by Gov. Nikki Haley. Rankin’s co-sponsor is Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, the governor’s Democratic opponent.

Several S.C. cities and two counties have bans but they differ in several ways. Josh Rhodes of the S.C. Association of Counties told the House panel the differences in the municipal and county ordinances are creating confusion for motorists and law enforcement officers. The county association and the S.C. Municipal Association both support a state ban.

Here’s another reason it’s past time for the state to act. As Miss S.C. 2013 Mosteller pointed out, texting while driving is a leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Yes, it’s understood that a law per se does not fix a problem. A ban on vehicular texting, with penalities appropriate to the offense, will at the very least put some teeth in the pledges.

The House and Senate in Columbia need to reconcile the differences in the versions and we urge area legislators to support the best -- toughest -- measure they can pass. Stop fussing about details and watering down penalities and send a good bill to the governor.