A House panel advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban texting while driving in South Carolina.
There have been several attempts to do this over the past two years, but each has been unsuccessful. Rep. Don Bowen (R-Anderson), who led one of those efforts in 2010, says he’s confident the bill can pass this year because there is now statistical data showing more highway deaths due to texting than those due to driving while intoxicated.
The transportation subcommittee unanimously voted to give the bill a favorable report Wednesday. No one in attendance spoke against the legislation, either. It now heads to the full Education and Public Works Committee.
The bill would charge a $100 fine and put two points on the driving record of a person who is caught. However, if the distraction causes a fatal accident, the driver could face at least a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
“We hope that will be a deterrent and make people stop (texting) without having to enforce it,” Bowen told South Carolina Radio Network.
Bowen said he expects more support from fellow legislators this year because he lowered the proposed fine and made a simple texting offense a misdemeanor.
However, while it could pass the House, it’s not clear whether the bill is any more likely to pass the Senate than a previous effort that failed last year. At the time, several legislators said it was unfair to single out texting and purposely held up the bill by adding “poison pill” amendments that banned other forms of distracted driving, as well.
Governor Nikki Haley has also not indicated whether would sign the bill if it even reached her desk. As a representative, Haley voted against Bowen’s first bill in 2010.
“You show me the data that eating a hamburger or putting on makeup have created serious problems on the highway and we’ll address it,” Bowen said. “We have the data to show that texting is a serious cause of accidents on the highway.”
Opponents also say legislators are infringing on personal freedoms. However, Bowen says it becomes a safety issue once a person drives on a public road and puts other drivers at risk by their actions.
35 other states have text messaging bans on drivers.