Our neighbor to the south may finally join the majority of the United States in banning text messaging while driving.
A bill outlawing tapping out messages while in motion is slated for debate by lawmakers from both the South Carolina House and Senate. The ban would then require one vote in the House to one in the Senate before being signed into law.
Nationwide, 43 states ban texting while driving. South Carolina is the only state in the South without a texting ban.
In fact, the Palmetto State, along with Montana, is one of just two states with no cell-use-while-driving restrictions, such as restrictions on teen-age drivers or hand-held devices. (37 states ban cell use by novice or teen drivers; 12 ban hand-held cell phone use, according to a state-by-state breakdown by the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
In comparison, North Carolina restricts drivers younger than 18 and school bus drivers from any cell phone use. All drivers are banned from texting.
The measure has already lost some teeth compared to a version OK’d by the S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee back in February, which has sparked some debate already. First-time offenses would cost a fine of only $50, compared to a $100 fine proposed in the earlier bill. Some legislators question how effective such a small fine would be. One argued that texters could easily avoid detection by authorities if they just “lower their phones eight inches.”
The naysayers do make some points, but in the end they are not enough. A texting ban law makes a difference – at least 43 states think so.
Texting while driving has even been called “the new drunk driving.” The FCC reports that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. The comparison to drunken driving is apt. Some research suggests that people are literally addicted to their phones – that the brain receives a rush when the phone rings, similar to the feeling a gambler gets when hitting the jackpot.
The argument that it’s easy to avoid detection has holes in it as well. Texting drivers exhibit the same behaviors as drinking drivers: going to slow or too fast, weaving, missing traffic signals. Law enforcement officers can easily spot texters. Getting pulled over while texting at the least would serve as a firm wake-up call.
We can be thankful that texting while driving is illegal in North Carolina. But given the large number of North Carolinians who vacation in South Carolina, it would be reassuring to know that the same legal deterrent to texting by drivers exists on the roads south of the border.