Is texting while driving illegal in the Lowcountry? Depends on where you are

rlurye@islandpacket.comOctober 26, 2013 

JONATHAN DYER — The Beaufort Gazette

With Beaufort County still a patchwork of laws banning texting while driving, officers are giving motorists plenty of time to adjust to new policies.

And along the county line, the city of Hardeeville -- which lies mostly in Jasper but crosses into Beaufort -- became the latest municipality to adopt a distracted-driver ordinance earlier this month.

For the next 60 days, police officers there will be making traffic stops but handing out only warning tickets, Hardeeville city manager Bob Nanni said. Before the law is enforced, Nanni will also have signs posted at the city limits to alert drivers they're entering a no-texting-while-driving zone.

That's an important step in South Carolina, one of a handful of states lagging the rest of the country in implementing an outright ban on texting while driving.

However, Hardeeville's new law helps fill in one of the few remaining gaps in enforcement in Beaufort County. Texting while driving has been illegal on Hilton Head Island since July and in unincorporated areas of Beaufort County since September.

The city of Beaufort outlawed the practice a year ago. Since January, police have issued 31 warning tickets and nine citations for texting while driving, according to Cpl. Hope Able.

"Hopefully before too long, we'll have a consistent ordinance throughout the county," Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

Like the city of Hardeeville Police Department, the sheriff's office is easing drivers in to the new bans. On Hilton Head Island, deputies have only given about a dozen warning tickets, Tanner said. Figures for the county overall were not immediately available, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh.

No drivers have been fined yet; Tanner said it's up to a deputy whether to give a warning or a ticket.

"I'm not going to give the general public a date," Tanner said. "We'll just have to see how this goes, to see how many stops are made, and what the general feel is of the officers working these cases."

The town of Bluffton, town of Port Royal and town of Yemassee, which lies partially in Beaufort County, do not have texting bans. However, Bluffton Town Council is likely to vote on an ordinance in the next few months, according to town clerk Sandra Lunceford, and the Port Royal Town Council will begin discussing a law of its own in November, according to town manager Van Willis.

They would join several other counties and municipalities not content to wait on the General Assembly to pass a statewide ban. Jeff Moore, president of the S.C. Sheriff's Association, said many are adopting their own ordinances.

That has produced different penalties from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however.

For example, drivers are fined $50 for a first offense in the city of Beaufort, compared to $100 in Hardeeville, on Hilton Head and in Beaufort County.

Boundaries of city and town limits can also be unclear, Moore said, especially to drivers unfamiliar with the area.

"It's unfortunate," Moore said. "While you leave one jurisdiction where you're allowed to text, you'll enter another that does not allow it and you'll get a ticket.

"All that will happen will be (that) you're confused."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

Related content:

Beaufort County bans texting behind the wheel. September 9, 2013

Bans on texting while driving, open burning OK'd by Hilton Head committee. June 4, 2013

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