Our view

Still waiting for state texting ban

April 23, 2014 

  • In summary

    It’s time for the state to follow the lead of local governments and pass a ban on texting while driving.

When it comes to sensible measures to prevent texting while driving, the pressure in South Carolina is coming from the grass roots up. We hope state lawmakers finally get the message.

A number of South Carolina cities and counties have grown tired of waiting for a statewide ban on texting while behind the wheel and have acted on their own. Greenville became the latest to approve a ban with an ordinance prohibiting any hand-held cellphone use while driving and allowing police to examine drivers’ cellphones to see if they have recently been used. The ban, the strictest of 17 existing local ordinances, went into effect April 1.

Because of the efforts by local governments to address this issue, the Legislature might finally be stirring. Earlier this month, both the state Senate and House passed separate bills that would limit the use of cellphones while driving.

The Senate bill is aimed primarily at juvenile drivers, the worst offenders. It bans novice drivers from using cellphones altogether, and penalizes young drivers with fines and points on the licenses.

The Senate also is expected to vote on a separate bill aimed at adult drivers.

The House bill imposes a $25 fine for texting while driving. But both the House and Senate bills prohibit police from looking at drivers’ cellphones.

We’d like to see a strong state bill emerge from this legislative session that would ban all texting while driving, including while vehicles are stopped at red lights. Fines should be stiff enough to deter this dangerous habit.

Unfortunately, it’s possible that state lawmakers once again will fail to pass a texting ban in the waning days of the session. There might be enough lawmakers with the idiotic belief that a texting ban would infringe on personal freedom to waylay a bill.

If a lawmaker introduced a new bill designed to prevent teens from drinking and driving, others no doubt would rush to get on the bandwagon. But teens now are at far greater danger of dying or being seriously injured in an accident caused by texting while driving than one caused by drunken driving.

The failure of the Legislature to comprehend the danger of texting while driving is astonishing. South Carolina and Montana now are the only states left without laws restricting texting while driving.

A strong statewide texting ban would be preferable to a patchwork quilt of local bans. With a uniform statewide ban, drivers would know exactly what the law is as they move from one jurisdiction to the next.

A statewide ban also would be a better deterrent, sending the message that texting while driving is illegal everywhere, not just in certain cities or counties. Even if police are not permitted to examine cellphones, many people are likely to obey the law simply because it is the law.

But if state lawmakers again refuse to act, we hope more local governments, including those in York County, will enact bans of their own. At least local elected officials can take steps to protect the residents they serve.

And maybe the Legislature finally will notice and take action itself.

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