Bans on texting while driving, open burning OK'd by Hilton Head committee

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJune 4, 2013 


Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, left, spoke Tuesday morning to the Town of Hilton Head Island Public Safety Committee about enforcing a proposed ban on texting while driving on Hilton Head. Tanner introduced Major Allan Horton, Capt. Joey "Jojo" Woodward and Lt. Glenn Zanelotti, standing in the background from left to right, to the committee during the meeting.

06042013 BRIAN HEFFERNAN — Brian Heffernan Buy Photo

Bans on texting while driving and burning yard debris won unanimous support Tuesday from the Town of Hilton Head Island Public Safety Committee.

The committee's recommendations could be considered by Town Council as soon as June 18, when each could receive the first of two required readings for approval, according to town manager Steve Riley.

Mayor Drew Laughlin last month called for both ordinances to be written and sent to the committee.

The texting ordinance would ban composing or reading text messages or emails on a cellphone or other electronic device while driving within town limits.

South Carolina is one of only five states without such a ban. Should council adopt the ordinance, it would become the state's seventh municipality, including the city of Beaufort, to ban texting while driving.

The ban would not prevent motorists from making calls on a cellphone or using GPS navigation, music players or hands-free functions on a phone, nor would it restrict requests for emergency service.

Violators could be issued a misdemeanor fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $300 for each additional violation.

The ordinance could be difficult for courts to enforce "because the officer has to make a judgment call that the driver is texting," according to town attorney Brian Hulbert. Proving that a driver was sending a text message at the time of being pulled over could require a subpoena of the suspect's cellphone records, which could take three to eight months to receive, Hulbert said.

For the ban to make Hilton Head's roads safer, residents and visitors would need to be educated, according to the committee and Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

Tanner said that if the ban were enacted, most of the initial traffic stops would result in warnings to educate motorists.

The proposed ordinance is modeled after an S.C. House bill that has received the most support among various texting bills -- none of which have passed thus far -- in the General Assembly, according to Hulbert.


The safety committee also recommended a ban on open burning of yard waste on Hilton Head.

The ordinance would ban a practice that is considered by some to be a part of rural Lowcountry culture but that others view as increasing the risks of wildfire and exacerbating some health problems because of drifting smoke.

Violators could be subject to penalties -- to be determined by the Hilton Head Island Municipal Court -- of up to 30 days in jail, a fine of as much as $500, or both, according to Chief Lavarn Lucas of the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division.

Lucas supports the ban.

Though the committee unanimously recommended council adopt the ordinance, its members -- Councilmen Bill Harkins, John McCann and Marc Grant, previously the ordinance's sharpest critic -- said the town should discuss offering yard debris pickup to residents.

For Thomas Barnwell Jr., a resident who opposes the ban, burning pine cones, leaves and other debris is a tradition for parts of the "native-islander, non-gated" community -- not just a means to clear yard waste.

"These people should be able to continue to (burn) in a safe way," Barnwell said.

The town currently allows open burning with a permit, two weeks per month, though most neighborhoods on the island do not allow it.

Where it is still allowed, the burning regulations are often broken, according to Lucas.

The fire division was instructed in March by Town Council to enforce the rules more vigorously. Of the 26 warnings the division has issued this year, 21 have been given since March, according to Lucas.

In 2012, the division issued 261 permits for open burning at 124 addresses.

Related content

  1. Mayor calls for ban on texting while driving, open burning on Hilton Head, May 7, 2013
  2. Hilton Head group gathering support for open burning ban

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