A House panel voted Wednesday in support of a measure that would ban text-messaging and using a hand held cell phone while driving. The Transportation Subcommittee passed on the bill on a 6-0 vote, but defeated Aiken County Republican Jim Stewart’s amendment to limit the ban to texting only, excluding cell phones. That amendment was defeated 5-1.
Orangeburg Representative Jerry Govan was among the lawmakers favoring a ban on both, saying that the cell phone part should be decided in full committee or on the floor. The panel also included an amendment that would set strict penalties for school bus drivers who text while driving.
Govan brought up information from the National Transportation Safety Administration. That shows that 11 percent of drivers are using cell phones at any one time, and that cell phone use increases crash risk by four times. One percent of drivers are pushing buttons at any given time, and that includes texting. The Administration’s research indicates that texting increases crash risk by eight times.
Govan says he has used a cell phone himself, regularly, when he was behind the wheel, commuting back and forth to Columbia.
(Govan on cell phones MP3 1:41)
Govan on cell phones MP3 1:41
The subcommittee passed Govan’s amendment that would use a portion of the money received in fines to pay for driver education on the issue.
Nineteen states impose bans on texting while driving and 23 limit cell phone use by teens. Approximately 50 countries ban hand-held cell phones while driving.
Aiken County Representative Jim Stewart tried to drop hand-held cell phone use usage from the bill, saying that texting is more risky than cell phone usage. Stewart talked about how important cell phone use has been to him when he was traveling to and from Columbia. He says the texting issue is the priority, and he said he didn’t want to hurt the ban’s chances by including cell phones in the bill. But Stewart said if a sufficient case is later made against the danger of using cell phones while driving, then he would considered it then.
Stewart questioned why lawmakers should ban cell phone usage when there were many other possible distractions, from eating hamburgers to putting on makeup, which he said were at least as risky as using a cell phone.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety have just begun enforcing a new ban against employees text-messaging while driving state-owned vehicles.