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S.C. texting ban: Not much bite, but it’s a start

On Behalf of | Jun 17, 2014 | Car Accidents |

Welcome to the club, South Carolina. It’s a good thing, even if you’re coming in at a discounted rate.

South Carolina officially banned texting while driving last week when Gov. Nikki Haley signed the text ban bill into law. It’s the 44th state to ban all texting while driving. One catch? The fine is only $25 to $50.

Critics immediately latched onto that, and also pointed out that the law has no penalty points and no impact on driver’s insurance, saying the law has no teeth. (By comparison, North Carolina’s fine is $100 and court costs.)

Texting increases the risk of a crash by 23 times.

But even though the fine is just a slap on the wrist, it’s better than no ban at all. The payoff is in the publicity.

At least people now know texting while driving is illegal. Of course there

will be scofflaws who will ignore the ban. The same is true of DWI laws. Penalties for DWI are severe, yet people break that law repeatedly.

But even with the light fine, fewer people will text because of the law. I believe the majority of people don’t want to break the law. And the law will focus more attention on the problem of texting and driving.

Consider the seat belt law in North Carolina. The fine is $25.50 plus court costs. No driver license are insurance points are assessed. Yet everyone I know buckles up. And I remember when the law was passed. Even die-hard opponents of the law I knew who swore “I’ll be strapped in the car and burn to death” in a wreck if they wore seat belts started using them. I was thankful the law was passed just because those people would be better protected.

One critic in South Carolina, a former law enforcement officer, said the law will be hard to enforce. “Somebody can say they were dialing a number or using a GPS,” he said, and added that it’s a common opinion that enforcing the law would not be possible without pulling an accused driver’s phone records. But despite that, he conceded, “it’s good to have (a law) on the books.”

Yes, this law lacks teeth. Using a GPS is expressly allowed in the wording of the law, and seizing phones is forbidden. But texting has been called “the new drunk driving.” A $25 to $50 dollar fine is not enough, considering the dangers it poses. The FCC reports that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted? And studies indicate that a driver on a phone has the same reaction speed as someone legally intoxicated.

So the question is suggested: How far is the public willing to go with regard to punishing texting while driving? Giving the state the power to seize drivers’ phone records after a texting arrest – similar in a way to giving a Breathalyzer test? Suspending or revoking drivers’ licenses after a conviction? Even taking away cell phone use privileges, much as a DWI takes away driving privileges?

These measures sound extreme, and are not likely to be implemented. But bottom line, texting while driving is deadly. We have to look at it clearly and examine just how serious it is and decide how firmly we are willing to deal with it. For South Carolina the new law is at least a start.