Editorial: texting ban should be Senate’s top priority as session draws to a close

The following editorial appeared Wednesday in The (Columbia) State:

Despite what could turn out to be a spectacular failure on ethics reform, the Legislature has had a surprisingly successful session so far, passing long-delayed measures to abolish the Budget and Control Board, let voters decide whether to end South Carolina’s status as the only government in the free world that elects its military leader and to improve an unconstitutional election process that gave too much control to individual legislative delegations.

That means that other than the state budget that legislators are determined to negotiate in secret and the ethics bill that conferees are working hard to weaken even more, there are only a few important bills left that need to be passed this year that still can be.

One towers above all the others: the ban on texting while driving.

Whether S.459 becomes law — whether South Carolina drops its status as one of just four states with absolutely no restrictions on this insane practice — depends on whether state senators think it’s important.

Note that the question isn’t whether state senators support a ban. They do, and overwhelmingly so, as does the House. In a test vote earlier this year, 37 of the 46 senators supported the ban; just four voted against it.

The overwhelming majority agreed to pass a joke of a bill — it bans texting only among the most inexperienced of drivers, and does so only in return for wiping out the existing bans in the state’s largest cities — as a tactical measure to advance the bill.

Now those same senators need to make sure they give final approval to that bill before the legislative session ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

That sounds like a simple enough thing, but opponents are likely to filibuster the bill to stop a final vote. Just the threat of a filibuster can be enough for senators to give in and move on to another bill, particularly this late in the session. And that’s where it’s important for senators to remember the situation: There is not another bill that has a chance of passing this year that is more important than the texting ban.

There is not another bill that has a chance of passing this year that is more important than making it illegal to carry on a thumb-driven conversation on a tiny screen with even tinier keys while hurtling down the highway at 70 mph in a two-ton projectile. Or even 35 mph.

Because it is not possible to drive safely while gazing into a tiny screen, particularly one with such addictive powers as the texting-enabled phone.

Because while determined law-breakers will violate any law we pass (this is why we still have murders), the vast majority of people will obey the law simply because it is the law.

There is not a rational objection to outlawing this practice, and sending a very clear message to drivers that texting while driving is just as unacceptable as driving through red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road and driving drunk.

South Carolina already was notorious for having some of the nation’s deadliest highways before anyone had ever imagined such a crazy thing as texting while driving.

The longer we hold out and refuse to ban this practice, the more people will have wrecks, and get injured, and die.

Senate supporters have to insist on taking up the bill, today, rather than passing over it to get to other bills. And once they take it up, they have to either sit through the speeches of opponents or else invoke cloture and bring those speeches to an end.

There’s nothing more important they can get done this week.