A bill that would prohibit those driving with a learners' permit or age-restricted license from talking or texting on a cell phone narrowly passed an S.C. House committee last week. It's an excellent idea, but one that needs to be expanded.
Why restrict only permit holders and 15-year-olds (at 16, a full, unrestricted license is granted)? Cell phones are a dangerous distraction for teens and adults alike. Recently, Toyota held a free defensive driving course in Fort Mill for teens and their parents. One of the moms who participated told the Fort Mill Times about trying to drive while the instructor intentionally tried to distract her by talking and asking her to fiddle with the radio and reach for her cell phone.
"I can't multitask as well as I thought I could," the mom admitted. She said she had difficulty negotiating traffic cones that would have been a snap without those distractions.
Another local mom, who serves on the S.C. PTA State Board of Directors, said she supports the bill despite her distaste for "more laws, more rules, more restrictions," as she told The State newspaper and reiterated to us. That mom, Sharyl Richardson, said the safety issue outweighs her misgivings over heavy-handed government. Her son, Bryce, 16, holds a learners' permit and supports the bill, pointing out that inexperienced drivers have enough to worry about.
We applaud his maturity. Again, however, this should not be considered an issue aimed at teens or adults who are learning to drive. There are few specific studies to cite, but all that's needed here is common sense. We wonder how many readers have had accidents or near-misses because of cell phone use - their own or those belonging to other drivers.
Cell phones are wonderful technology. They help parents keep track of their kids, facilitate business and relationships, and certainly come in handy when there's an emergency - or a photo opportunity. But like most conveniences, we tend to get carried away with a good thing. Even hands-free conversations can cause a deadly distraction, as the mom who took the Toyota course found out.
With the exception of emergency situations - and those can be defined in a logical way to allow police officers discretion when they pull someone over - a ban on cell phone use for all drivers no matter their age or status makes sense and will undoubtedly save lives and prevent injuries.
Let's all stand up and give a round of applause to Vincent Brown. The 13-year-old Fort Mill resident helped saves the lives of a neighbor and her son on Avery Street last week. Brown saw smoke coming from the neighbor's house and immediately alerted his dad. The two ran to the burning home and pounded on the door, waking up the sleeping mom and her teenaged son inside. Both escaped unharmed.
The fact that helping someone in need was Vincent Brown's first thought says a lot about the young man. Sometimes we report less than flattering accounts of what local teens are up to. We're happy to have a role model like Vincent Brown to report on, too.