In the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, chairman Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, pleaded with fellow senators to move along on a bill to ban drivers from texting.
“I think we’ve got an extreme obligation to pass a state law so that everybody knows what the rules are on texting…because you’re not going to be able to go down the road in this state and know what the rules are,” Martin said. “You’re going to have two dozen different sets of rules in any direction you go in.”
Martin mentioned a recent ordinance by the city of Greenville that bans the use of a cell phone to call or text anywhere on the road, even if a driver has pulled over. That is different from the city of Mount Pleasant’s ban on the use of handheld electronic communication devices to draft, transmit or review an email, or text while driving.
The panel overwhelmingly approved the measure, S. 416, late Tuesday. As amended, it carries a $100 fine for first offense; $200 for a second offense; $300 for a third plus a two-point penalty on a driver’s license. Law enforcement cannot search or seize a phone, leading Democrat Gerald Malloy to wonder how it can be enforced at all.
“(The officer) is not going to be corrorborate any evidence. He’s not going to have a phone to be able to show where they texted. All he’s going to do is say ‘I saw it, I know I saw it.'”
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, defended its intent: “The overwhelming majority of South Carolinians are law-abiding people and if you tell them that it is a violation of the law to do it, they’re not going to do it,” he told his fellow committee members. “So by setting up that standard, it’s going to have a significant effect just by itself.”
Kershaw Sen. Vincent Sheheen suggested that the law would, at the least, give parents more of a reason to discourage their teens from using their cell phones in the car.
Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, added,”You cannot ignore the statistics that it takes your attention away from the road, when you are texting, when you are looking and using your handheld device to email, or to talk, or to read text.
“We have wisely lowered our DUI threshold, wisely had a primary enforcement of seatbelts, we have wisely protected our children with booster seats,” Rankin argued. “If you want to talk about personal freedom, fine. Text on your farm, don’t text on my highway. Don’t injure me.”
Sen. Lee Bright disagreed, saying that texting is just one of many equal distractions to drivers and that the state should not be so heavy handed. His amendment to weaken the bill was defeated 19-2.