SC puts brakes on texting while driving

ashain@thestate.comJune 3, 2014 

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— The days of texting behind the wheel in South Carolina appear numbered.

S.C. House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday on a compromise to ban texting while driving, making South Carolina the last state in the South to penalize the practice.

If the bill wins final approval from the General Assembly and is signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley, the statewide measure would supersede local bans passed in 19 cities and two counties, including Columbia, Greenville and Charleston.

“This is a progressive, life-saving move in a state not known to emphasize traffic safety for the good of all drivers over individual choices,” AAA Carolinas spokesman Tom Crosby said.

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South Carolina is just one of three states now with no limits on texting while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Texting while driving is banned in 43 states. A dozen states prohibit use of phones anytime while behind the wheel.

Under the S.C. measure, drivers could not read or write text or email messages while on public roads, even if they are idling at a traffic light or a stop sign.

To text or e-mail, they would have to park or use a hands-free device. Exceptions would allow the use of a global-positioning system or messaging to get emergency help.

Once it becomes law, S.C. police would issue warnings about texting and driving for 180 days. After that period, they could start issuing tickets.

“We’re slowly moving on this,” said Sen. Luke Rankin, a Horry Republican who chairs the House-Senate conference committee that reached a compromise Tuesday. “We’ll give people time on this.”

Fines will be $25 for a violation and no more than $50 for multiple violations.

The texting fine in Georgia is $150. North Carolina has a $100 fine, while Tennessee has a $50 penalty. Columbia’s texting prohibition comes with a $100 fine for violators.

S.C. police could pull over drivers for a texting violation alone.

But drivers would not be assessed penalty points on their license, and the tickets would not be included on their state records or reported to their insurers.

S.C. lawmakers wanted the penalties to mimic those issued for not wearing a seat belt. “We lead with a carrot and not a stick,” Rankin said.

While the fines are not punitive, a statewide ban would kick off public-service campaigns promoting the ban and reminding drivers to put down their phones, AAA officials predicted.

The law especially could help influence the behavior of younger drivers, said Crosby, the AAA spokesman.

“Texting while driving has become harder to prevent as young people reach driving age after having had a cell phone and texting for a decade or more,” he said.

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