COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers have overwhelmingly passed a statewide ban on texting while driving.
Under the ban approved by the state House in a 94-2 vote and by the Senate 42-2 on Wednesday, drivers who violate the law would not receive penalty points, but would face fines starting at $25. However, the use of GPS navigators and texting to summon emergency services would be permitted.
Drivers also would be allowed to text on a hand-held device if stopped at a red light or stop sign.
Police would be prohibited from confiscating or viewing a cellphone to determine whether a driver was texting. During the first 180 days after the law goes into effect police would issue warnings before citations are handed out.
The ban would supersede at least 19 local ordinances that vary by city, creating consistency across South Carolina.
Once it’s signed into law, South Carolina will be the 49th state to adopt a law on texting. Montana is the only other state that doesn’t have a texting ban.
Sponsoring Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, said the ban will save more lives than any other bill passed in years by preventing distracted driving.
“The ban will help protect the people of South Carolina, clear up confusing and irregular local regulations and make our roads safer around the state,” Sheheen said.
Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, said it is time that South Carolina finally got a texting ban. However, he said it should have gone further by targeting all hand-held use of cellphones while driving.
The difficulty will be enforcing the ban and determining whether someone is talking or texting on their cellphone, said Skelton.
Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA, said the ban’s passage means lawmakers are placing the safety of the public over that of individual choices.
“Highways are publicly owned and public safety rules – not individual rights,” Crosby said. “It’s just such a dangerous behavior. It’s much more dangerous than drunk driving according to some studies.”
Indeed, Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said sending a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds; at 55 mph, that would be the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blind, he said.
“At the end of the day, I really believe that it will enhance public safety,” Smith said. “We believe this a good thing.”
Smith added that law enforcement officers and drivers used to assume drivers swerving on the road were likely intoxicated. Now, however, motorists are often pushed out of their lanes by drivers who are texting.
The Post and Courier of Charleston contributed