September 20, 2014

Legislator seeks to ban texting while driving near schools

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (FIle)

A bill being proposed in the Statehouse next month would ban texting while driving in school zones. Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) is sponsoring the bill, which would prohibit texting once a school zone’s warning lights have been turned on.

Sheheen said he’s hoping the Senate will pass a ban on all texting and driving, but such legislation has stalled for years in the General Assembly. “My goal this year was to try to take a bite out of the problem where it’s most serious and this is one of those areas.”

Opponents have held up an outright ban, concerned about how such a law would be enforced. For example, several senators wondered how law enforcement could prove a driver was texting and not just preparing to make a call.

Sheheen said he wants to more narrowly focus the ban in a way that addresses those concerns. In the case of school zones, he said a police officer directing traffic at the school will likely notice if a driver is texting. He said he had received calls from officers who were concerned parents (and some teens) were endangering children.

“I’m the first person to say that I’ve been guilty of it,” Sheheen said, “The goal here is to say, hey, this behavior is certainly unacceptable in a crowded area where kids are.”

Under the legislation, a person caught texting would face up to a $500 fine and/or 30 days in jail.

The bill could come up for discussion when the Legislature returns in January. However, Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) said he believes a statewide ban on all texting and driving can still pass. “More and more municipalities have adopted the bans,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “I think that will encourage the Senate to finally move on that bill. I just think it’s really somewhat embarrassing as a policy matter.”

He also warned the federal government could soon mandate texting bans as a condition for receiving highway funds.