Editorial: Signing a pledge not to text while driving is good, but SC needs a ban

November 27, 2013 

— WE’RE encouraged that nearly 3,300 USC and Clemson students signed a pledge this month not to text while driving. Although there’s nothing to make them keep their pledges, the fact that they would take that step suggests that maybe they’ve gotten the message that this is a horribly dangerous and selfish and irresponsible thing to do.

We’re likewise encouraged that Gov. Nikki Haley joined the schools’ presidents to support the pledge drive. In a rational world, promoting a campaign like this would be little more than a photo-op for a governor — a chance to get on the right side of public safety without putting any skin in the game. But South Carolina isn’t always rational, and there was a time not too long ago when a governor wouldn’t go so far as to acknowledge, as Ms. Haley did, that “driving is a privilege and with it comes responsibility.” Unfortunately, there still are legislators for whom that is a foreign concept.

Still, as good a thing as it is to encourage kids not to text while they’re driving, it’s not an adequate response to our nation’s fastest-growing highway-safety threat — for our governor or our legislators or our state.

If it were, we could repeal all those pesky, freedom-robbing laws that require people to stop at red lights and refrain from driving when they’re drunk, and instead just have news conferences encouraging them to sign pledges.

Of course we can’t do that, because some actions are so dangerous to others that we need to outlaw them. Yes, it is astounding that we would need a law that tells people not to take their eyes off the road long enough to compose or read a message on a tiny screen. Long enough to engage in a rapid-fire conversation of typing and reading and typing and reading and typing and reading, rather than watching out for that car in front of them that just slammed on brakes, or the one beside them that’s swerving into their lane, or the toddler who just darted out in front of them. But clearly we do, since texting while driving kills more than 3,000 teens a year — and counting.

In a proclamation declaring a “Texting Can Wait — Pledge Day,” Gov. Haley encouraged “all South Carolinians to do their part to eliminate the dangerous practice of texting while driving.”

We join in offering that encouragement, particularly to a small number of South Carolinians who can do a lot more than simply change their own behavior: They can make texting while driving illegal. Just like it’s illegal to drive when you’re drunk. Just like it’s illegal to speed. Just like it’s illegal to ignore stop lights and other traffic signals and drive without a safety belt.

Forty states ban texting while driving; six more prohibit novice drivers from texting while driving. South Carolina is one of just four states not in either group.

Gov. Haley can’t pass a law. But she can make it part of her agenda, and encourage our legislators to, in her own words, “do their part to eliminate the dangerous practice of texting while driving.” Then, when our legislators finally agree to drag our state out of the public-safety cellar, she can sign it into law.

It won’t eliminate texting while driving; nothing short of vehicles that won’t run when the driver is texting will do that. And it might not change behavior immediately. But over time, it will, just like allowing police to enforce our safety-belt law increased safety-belt use from 70 percent to 91 percent — in an astoundingly quick five years.

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