Hilton Head safety committee shifts texting-while-driving ban to Town Council

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2013 

Joe Kopf, a member of the Greater Island Council of Hilton Head and Bluffton, gives a presentation to the Town of Hilton Head Island Public Safety Committee advocating for a ban on texting while driving.


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    Property crimes on Hilton Head Island decreased in the first quarter of 2013 for the third consecutive year, according to a quarterly report by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office at the Town Council Public Safety Committee meeting Monday. A total of 231 burglaries, thefts and car thefts occurred during January, February and March this year. That was a decrease of 23 during the same period in 2012, and 73 fewer than in 2011. The Sheriff's Office reported 1,312 property crimes in 2012.

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A town safety committee wants the Hilton Head Island Town Council to discuss banning texting while driving.

The Public Safety Committee unanimously agreed Monday that the issue should be discussed by council, but it stopped short of asking town staff to draft an ordinance that would ban the activity.

Town Council is scheduled to discuss it today.

The safety committee, which is made up of some council members, and town staff seemed to agree texting while driving is dangerous.

"Logic suggests that this is a dangerous practice," committee member Bill Harkins said.

However, the committee questioned whether a law would be enforceable and whether the town should wait for the General Assembly to pass a statewide ban.

South Carolina is one of only five states without any ban on texting while driving. In November, Beaufort joined six other municipalities in the state that ban it. Beaufort's ordinance also restricts drivers 18 or younger from any cellphone use.

Sheriff's deputies might have difficulty determining how drivers are using their phones, according to town staff attorney Brian Hulbert. Playing music, looking up GPS directions or dialing a phone number could remain legal under a texting ban.

Proving that someone was texting while driving might also require a subpoena of the suspect's cellphone records, which could take three to eight months, according to Hulbert.

Committee member John McCann said those issues could be considered but shouldn't delay action.

"If we do nothing, then things won't ever get better," said McCann. "We have to work this through. We have to discuss this through. And the timing is right -- no one else is going to do it for us."

The legislature is considering several bills, but none is likely to pass before the session ends June 6, according to Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island.

The bill had the support of Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton; and Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who favors banning texting while driving, said he would prefer the town adopt an ordinance modeled after state legislation.

For an ordinance to be effective, the town would have to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving. The education would need to be ongoing, too, Hulbert said.

That could prove problematic because the island is a tourist destination, Hulbert added.

The Greater Island Council of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton wrote a letter May 2 supporting a town ban. Joe Kopf, a member of the Greater Island Council, led a texting-while-driving presentation at the safety committee meeting Monday.

Related content

  1. What will it take to get a texting while driving ban?, April 30, 2013
  2. Texting-while-driving ban discussed on Hilton Head, March 17, 2013

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