Distracted driving is a broad term that refers to any activity that could divert a driver’s attention away from the road. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents on our nation’s highways and roads. The cellular phone has become one of the foremost distractions to our nation’s drivers, reportedly making it four times more likely that the driver will have an accident. The National Safety Council estimates that 26% of all crashes involve cell phone use.
Now that texting has, in recent years, become a leading form of communication, distracted driving is more prevalent than ever. Texting presents a particularly dangerous form of distraction to a driver, because it requires at least one the driver’s hands to hit each key to complete the message, and requires lengthy diversion of the driver’s eyes in order to read incoming texts and to proofread outgoing texts. Even the slightest diversion of attention can cause an accident; texting creates a lengthier and more consistent diversion as two parties to a text conversation reply back and forth.
Our local lawmakers are aware of the dangers that cell phones and texting pose to South Carolina’s drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. In October 2013, the city of Charleston passed a ban on texting while driving, joining various other municipalities around our state that had passed similar bans. Attempts to pass a statewide ban on texting and cell phone use while driving had repeatedly failed, and so local jurisdictions took the initiative and began passing local bans in order to combat the burgeoning problem.
Governor Haley Signs into Law a Statewide Ban Against Texting While Driving
South Carolina lawmakers finally responded to the public outcry, and Governor Nikki Haley signed into law a statewide ban against texting while driving on June 9, 2014. The statewide ban preempts local bans such as those in Charleston, and so it is critical that all South Carolina drivers are aware that no matter the city or town, texting and driving is now prohibited.
The new ban reads: “It is unlawful for a person to use a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text-based communication [includes text messages, i-messaging, and e-mailing] while operating a motor vehicle on public streets and highways of [South Carolina].”
Statewide Ban Too Lenient?
The objective of passing a statewide ban against texting while driving is undoubtedly to reduce the number of accidents caused by this dangerous form of distracted driving. By providing uniform rules and uniform consequences, South Carolina drivers should be deterred from engaging in this dangerous behavior.
But arguably the South Carolina statewide ban imposes one of the lightest “slaps on the wrist” as compared to the rest of the states that have enacted similar bans. A single infraction carries a $25 fine, a notable reduction from the $100 fine that Charleston imposed locally back in October. South Carolina’s texting ban fine now ranks as one of the cheapest fines of its kind in the nation. In addition, a texting ban violation in South Carolina will not appear on a driver’s DMV record. In fact, the ban actually prevents law enforcement agencies from reporting driver infractions to insurance companies.
It is too early to tell if the statewide ban will serve to reduce the number of accidents caused by texting while driving, or if the proverbial slap on the wrist delivered by a $25 ticket will do little more than annoy serial texters. We sincerely hope that the former is true.