Beaufort on right track with driving-texting ban

info@islandpacket.comAugust 28, 2012 

Beaufort's move toward a citywide ban on texting and driving is understandable.

Evidence continues to mount that this is a dangerous practice that should be stopped. South Carolina is one of only six states where it is legal for all drivers to text while driving.

But it would be far better if lawmakers got this job done, so that individual communities don't have to come up with their own rules to control what is clearly a universal problem.

The S.C. House this session passed a bill banning handheld cell phone use and texting for drivers under 18 and banning texting for all drivers in highway construction and school zones. The bill got two of three readings in the Senate before the session ended. That's progress, but the measure didn't go far enough.

Texting and driving should be illegal for all drivers, not just those of a certain age or in specific situations.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports drivers are 23 times more likely to crash if they are texting while behind the wheel. A 2011 phone survey by the NHTSA found 11.5 percent of drivers ages 18 to 20 were texting during the most recent crash in which they were involved.

Beaufort is considering an ordinance that would prohibit cellphone use and texting by drivers younger than 18 and prohibit texting by all drivers. Drivers who break the law would be cited and face fees starting at $50 and increasing to $150 for repeated violations.

Police Chief Matt Clancy is recommending an education campaign before a ban is enforced. That's smart, particularly with a ban in a limited geographic area. Even if City Council passes the ordinance by next month, council members don't want to enforce a ban until city staff and police develop an awareness campaign.

Clancy also warns that it can be difficult to enforce such a ban and convict violators. He suggests officers be allowed to check phones during a traffic stop when texting is suspected. That would allow officers to collect information on how the phone was being used, and that information could be used in court or to subpoena phone records.

"It helps officer and driver," Clancy said. "It proves one way or another what they were doing."

He's right to stay away from confiscating phones as officers in Clemson may do. Too many privacy and security issues are raised with that. Some of us have our lives, including access to our finances, in our smartphones.

Despite predicted problems with enforcement, texting and driving bans are worth pursuing. We're confident that a law on the books would deter many drivers from doing it, and that will make our roads that much safer.

In the meantime, drivers can do the right thing on their own and resist the temptation to send or read text messages while behind the wheel and limit their cellphone use to hands-free devices.

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