South Carolina’s roads are more deadly than its next-door neighbor’s, even with more Georgia drivers behind the wheel.
This month, Georgia took action to reduce even further traffic fatalities in the Peach State, requiring cellphone users to go hands-free in their cars. One S.C. lawmaker hopes to do the same here.
State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, sponsored a bill this year to make it illegal to drive “under the influence” of an electronic device. Taylor plans to reintroduce the bill when lawmakers return to the State House in January, citing polling showing that a majority of S.C. voters blame cellphone use for accidents and 65 percent would support a requirement they only be used “hands free.”
“The general public is ahead of the Legislature on this,“ Taylor said. “They want restrictions.
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“Most people hate sitting at red lights. But they think it’s a good thing we have them.”
Taylor points to Georgia’s recently enacted law as a model.
Georgia’s traffic fatality rate is down 10 percent year-to-date for the first time in seven years, something state Rep. John Carson, R-Cobb, partly credits to coverage of the cellphone law that he sponsored in the Georgia legislature.
“If the news media is talking about it, people know they need to put their phone down,” Carson said. “There were a number of naysayers who said, ‘Well, what about makeup? What about cigarettes?’ But it’s not the same kind of distraction.
“You’re not staring at a french fry at a traffic light.”
The Marietta Republican’s law prohibits drivers from physically holding or supporting their phones or any other wireless device, such as a tablet, iPod or e-reader. Tickets range from a $50 fine for a first offense to a $150 fine for a third or subsequent offense.
South Carolina’s roads are even more dangerous than Georgia’s when compared head-to-head.
Georgia had 1,549 traffic fatalities in 2017, compared to 988 road deaths in the Palmetto State. But Georgia has 6.9 million licensed drivers while about half as many South Carolinians get behind the wheel, 3.7 million.
In 2017, distracted driving was responsible for 17,025 collisions, 51 deaths and 7,329 injuries in South Carolina, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. Cellphones or texting specifically were cited in 331 of those collisions, leading to five deaths and 167 injuries.
Both the Georgia law and Taylor’s proposed S.C. counterpart would empower police for the first time to ticket drivers merely for handling a phone while driving.
“We know how difficult it is to issue a citation because (now) there’s no law that says you can’t have it in your hand,” said Tiffany Wright with AAA Carolinas. Even with anti-texting laws, “You can say, ‘I was looking at GPS.’ At least then, if you see it, you can do something about it.”
AAA’s official position is that even hands-free devices can distract drivers, but the group supports any requirement meant to make driving safer.
“For a long time, South Carolina has been at the bottom with traffic statistics,” Wright said. “This would be a step in the right direction.”