Proposed texting ban sends critical message

info@islandpacket.comJune 24, 2013 

01/08/09- Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette

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Hilton Head Island's Town Council made the right call in voting to ban texting while driving within town limits.

It almost certainly will deter many drivers from engaging in the dangerous practice, even if warnings, and not citations, are issued. Hilton Head joins Beaufort and six other municipalities in banning texting while driving.

Lawmakers once again failed to take any action this year at the state level. A half-dozen bills were filed on the subject; none made it past the committee stage. One House bill made it out of committee with a favorable report only to be sent to another committee.

Clearly, lawmakers don't consider this a priority. We are behind 41 other states in passing texting bans for all drivers. All but four of those state have primary enforcement, which means a police officer can pull someone over for the single offense of texting while driving.

South Carolina and Montana are alone in failing to pass any limits on texting while driving or cellphone use while driving.

That's unfortunate. Evidence mounts about the dangers of texting while driving. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that doing so creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. Eleven percent of drivers ages 18 to 20 who were involved in an automobile accident and survived admitted they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed, the Federal Communications Commission reports.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this year, 31 percent of people surveyed said that in the past 30 days, they had read or sent at least one text message while driving. Sixty-nine percent of drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

Hilton Head's ordinance, which needs one more vote to become law, would ban motorists from composing or reading electronic messages, such as texts or emails, on a cellphone or other electronic device while driving within town limits. It calls for a misdemeanor fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $300 for each additional violation. It would not prevent drivers from making calls or using GPS navigation, audio players or hands-free functions of a phone. Requests for emergency service would also be exempt.

Councilman George Williams, the only council member to vote against the proposed ordinance last week, called it a "feel-good ordinance" that would be enforced rarely until a statewide law sets a statewide standard.

But Mayor Drew Laughlin summed up well the ordinance's potential impact: "If ... there is an ordinance in place that causes anyone to voluntarily comply, or if it helps one parent get his child not to do it because it is illegal, then it is a worthwhile exercise."

Importantly, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner called it the right thing to do and said it would help make the town's roads safer. Tanner said education would be the key and one way to do that was to issue warning tickets. He also said school resource officers could help get the message to teen-age drivers.

"If it acts as a deterrent -- which I know it will -- then we are ahead of the game," he said.

Now lawmakers need to catch up with the municipalities who have passed texting bans and with most of the rest of the country.

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