Outlaw texting while driving statewide

info@islandpacket.comNovember 3, 2013 

State lawmakers must step up and pass a statewide ban on texting while driving.

Currently, Beaufort County -- like several of the state's counties -- is a confusing patchwork of bans and no bans.

It's legal to text while driving in Bluffton, but the practice is prohibited on Hilton Head Island. Motorists can text away in Port Royal and Yemassee, but they risk getting a ticket if they try it in the city of Beaufort or unincorporated Beaufort County.

This month, the city of Hardeeville became the latest municipality to ban the practice.

A similar patchwork exists across the state. While about a dozen municipalities have banned the practice, it's legal in dozens more.

Motorists cannot keep track of what is allowed where. And they shouldn't have to.

The state legislature must finish what it started on several previous occasions and pass a ban, sending a clear message to all motorists that texting behind the wheel is unacceptable anywhere in the state.

The majority of states have already done so. Only South Carolina, Arizona and Montana lack restrictions on motorists using cellphones.

A ban would not only clear up confusion for drivers, but save lives.

Texting in cars and trucks causes more than 3,000 deaths and 330,000 injuries per year, according to a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study.

That's because a texting driver is a distracted driver.

They're 23 times more likely to get into an accident than a non-texting driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It takes longer to send a text than many motorists realize.

Five seconds is the average time a driver's eyes are off the road while texting, the NHTSA notes. When traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field.

Add to it that SC roads are among the deadliest in the nation and the life-saving potential of a ban becomes aparent. (Only Montana has more deaths per vehicle mile traveled.)

Young drivers are particularly vulnerable.

And a new study published last month in the International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management found that four out of five college students texted while driving.

Males in particular are more likely to downplay the dangers of distracted driving.

But it's not just young people who text and drive.

A peek into the car windows of fellow motorists while waiting at a red light easily shows that the texting trend is catching on with motorists of all ages.

Still, many lawmakers remain unconvinced it's time to act.

When bills to ban the practice have been debated in the last several years, opponents' arguments have run the gamut: A ban is excessive government intervention into people's lives. A ban is a "slippery slope" that will open the door for other bans on activities such as eating while driving.

These excuses are just that -- excuses. Plenty of other activities distract drivers, but a growing body of research shows that sending and receiving texts tops the list.

For instance, texting while driving recently surpassed drunken driving as a killer of teens, causing 3,000 deaths per year vs. 2,700, according to the NHTSA.

State leaders have a chance to save lives by prohibiting texting while driving.

That's not something they can say about the vast majority of bills they wrangle over each legislative session.

Passing a ban should top their list when they return to Columbia in January.

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