Our view

City mulls ban on texting while driving

June 1, 2014 

  • In summary

    The best option would be a statewide texting ban for all drivers, but city should keep its options open in case state falls short.

The proposed texting-while-driving ban for employees of the city of Rock Hill might be unnecessary if the Legislature adopts a statewide ban for all drivers. Then again, proceeding with the local ban might be wise just in case lawmakers don’t meet the deadline for enacting the ban.

State lawmakers have until Thursday, when the Legislature adjourns, to reach an agreement on which drivers the ban would affect. The Senate’s version would apply only to drivers with beginner’s or restricted licenses, while the House wants the ban to apply to all drivers.

The Senate voted Wednesday to send the differing proposals to a joint House-Senate conference committee. The committee is expected to report back early this week, after which both Houses would vote on the recommendation.

Meanwhile, city officials are considering a local ban that would apply to all city employees while on the clock. They would be prohibited from using mobile phones to text while conducting city business in their personal cars or in city-owned vehicles.

Exceptions include allowing employes to use their phones while legally parked or stopped. They also could use their phones if voice-activated or hands-free functions are enabled.

The proposed ban would apply to police and emergency responders but an exception would be made for any employee who uses a mobile phone to call for emergency assistance. Emergency workers, such as police officers or firefighters, also would be permitted to use their phones to operate dispatch systems.

City officials also might include a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes – or e-cigarettes – while in city-owned cars or other city vehicles. E-cigarettes are electronically powered devices that deliver a dose of nicotine in a vapor that is designed to simulate smoking a regular cigarette.

Advocates of the ban say limited research exists regarding the potential danger of second-hand e-cigarette vapor, and avoiding the risk altogether in city vehicles makes sense until more is known. The rules on texting and e-cigarettes could go into effect as early as July 1.

We would prefer a uniform statewide texting ban for all drivers. The proposed texting ban on Rock Hill city employees would be just one more piece of the patchwork of local bans throughout the state.

About 20 cities, towns and counties have their own bans, including Columbia, Charleston and Greenville, according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina. While we understand why local jurisdictions decided to act while the state lawmakers have dragged their feet, it’s difficult for drivers – especially visitors to the state – to know what the laws might be as they travel from one city to the next.

Limiting the state texting ban to drivers with beginner’s or restricted licenses would be worse than no state law at all. It would supersede the local bans, essentially allowing most drivers to continue texting if they choose.

The House version, which we hope the conference committee will recommend, would apply to all drivers. Violators could be fined between $25 and $50 for one or more violations.

The fines aren’t heavy, but, like similar fines on seatbelt violations, they are intended to serve as a deterrent to get drivers to change their habits.

The state has been mulling a texting-while-driving ban for years. Meanwhile, 43 other states already have enacted bans covering all drivers.

We hope lawmakers can make the Thursday deadline and pass a sensible ban. The city, however, should keep its options open in the event state lawmakers falter.

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