Rock Hill city workers could see texting, e-cigarette ban

05/24/2014 4:35 PM

05/24/2014 11:43 PM

City of Rock Hill employees could soon face disciplinary action if they are caught texting and driving while on the clock or smoking electronic cigarettes in city-owned vehicles.

Rock Hill City Council members are considering the new rules for the city’s nearly 900 full- and part-time employees. Members plan to vote next month.

The proposed ban on texting and driving would apply to all city employees while conducting city business in their personal cars or in city-owned vehicles.

City officials say the move to ban texting while driving is for safety reasons. Rock Hill has not had any vehicle accidents resulting from city employees who were using their phones while driving, officials said this month.

South Carolina state lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit texting while driving statewide and enable police officers to ticket drivers who break the law. Rock Hill officials say any local ban against texting while behind the wheel would be overriden by state law, if passed.

Supporters of strict texting and driving laws point to statistics that they say show the danger of distracted driving.

At any given “daylight moment” nationwide, nearly 660,000 Americans are using cell phones while driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2012, nearly 421,000 people were injured and 3,328 people were killed in car crashes resulting from distracted driving, agency statistics show.

At least 19 cities in South Carolina, including Clemson, Columbia and Mt. Pleasant, have passed local texting-and-driving bans that apply to all residents and visitors. Rock Hill has no current plan to adopt a similar ban, said Katie Quinn, city spokeswoman.

Some exceptions are proposed to the new local texting rule, including allowing Rock Hill employees to use their phones while legally parked or stopped. Employees would also be able to 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, would be allowed to use their phones or any other text-based communication devices to operate dispatch systems.

Employees who violate the texting rule could face disciplinary action, including being fired, according to the proposed policy.

The texting-and-driving ban would be included among other Rock Hill rules for employee technology use. Existing rules prohibit employees from playing games or accessing obscene or sexually-graphic materials on city-owned computers.

A potential electronic cigarette, or e-cig, ban for Rock Hill employees would prohibit the smoking of tobacco substitutes in city-owned cars or other equipment. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that contain nicotine and produce vapor, instead of smoke.

City rules already ban employees from smoking cigarettes, cigars and using other types of tobacco while inside city buildings, vehicles or equipment.

Like the texting ban, officials say the e-cigarette ban is a proactive safety effort. Nationwide, health experts are debating the potential dangers of e-cigarettes, with many saying smokeless tobacco devices are so new, limited research exists.

Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals, officials with the American Society of Clinical Oncology have said the devices pose health risks, including cancer.

Rock Hill’s proposed rules on texting and e-cigarettes could go into effect as early as July 1.

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