Drivers in Beaufort County are no longer allowed to text while behind the wheel.
The Beaufort County Council unanimously approved Monday a ban on a practice that safety advocates say distracts drivers and leads to deadly accidents.
The council has overwhelmingly endorsed the ban at previous meetings, and the proposal brought forth little discussion or public comment.
"I don't think we've ever passed an ordinance with less debate than this one," Councilman Rick Caporale said.
The county joins the city of Beaufort and Town of Hilton Head Island in approving a ban on texting while driving. The county's ban covers unincorporated areas and will be enforced by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
The ordinance is similar to one approved in July by the Hilton Head Town Council that bans drivers from composing, sending or reading electronic messages, such as texts or emails. The Sheriff's Office also enforces the town's ban.
Motorists asking for emergency service are exempt from the ban, as are emergency responders, such as deputies and EMS workers using electronic devices as part of their duties.
Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense and $300 for subsequent offenses.
With the new ordinance on the books, the process of educating drivers begins, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. Deputies will begin enforcing the ban immediately, but the sheriff's department hopes to get the word out through warnings and local chambers of commerce and publications, Tanner said.
The department will also work with school resource officers to inform local high school students about the new rule, he added.
The towns of Bluffton and Port Royal don't have bans for texting while driving, but Tanner said he hopes the County Council will urge those municipalities to adopt the county ordinance. ALLIANCE GETS $190,000
The council also approved a $190,000 agreement with the Lowcountry Economic Alliance to develop six economic-development projects to try to attract businesses to Beaufort County.
The alliance is a nonprofit organization that partners with businesses and local governments.
The new agreement includes $85,000 to study properties along county highways to create an inventory of possible sites for businesses. It also includes an upgrade of the county computer-mapping system, a $10,000 promotional video and the creation of a marketing review task force.
AIRPORT TREE REMOVAL
The council also approved two contracts for more tree removal at the Hilton Head Island Airport.
Both are for engineering firm Talbert, Bright and Ellington of Columbia to identify trees on both ends of the runway that obstruct pilots' views and to remove them.
The contracts will cost the county about $207,000 in all. At the council's Finance Committee meeting Monday, county administrator Gary Kubic said the survey could identify as many as 1,500 trees that need to be removed. Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.