A group of self-appointed traffic monitors in Beaufort County could be “shaming” you — and you might not be aware of it — if they believe you are driving badly.
Didn’t use a turn signal, were speeding or failed to put your child in a car safety seat? It’s possible someone could take a picture and post your license plate, vehicle or image on a Facebook page called “Bad Drivers Bluffton, Okatie, HHI.”
More than 200 people are now part of the members-only Facebook group. But there has been at least one dispute among some members over what should be posted.
An online argument erupted earlier this week when Dana Kaminowitz, of Bluffton, posted a picture of a child standing — clearly unrestrained — in the back of a vehicle.
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Kaminowitz said the picture was taken at McCracken Middle School while her car and the other vehicle were stopped in the drop-off line. Yet, she said in her post, the child remained out of the seat as the vehicle exited the school.
Some posters said Kaminowitz should have called police instead of publicly shaming a local family. Others praised Kaminowitz for promoting safety in the community.
“We have a huge accident problem rate out here in Bluffton,” Kaminowitz told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette when contacted Wednesday. “The accidents are constant. Why risk your child’s life by not properly restraining them in a vehicle?”
Kaminowitz said she wants drivers to know the importance of using child safety seats — and that other people might be watching whether you’re correctly using your child’s seat.
“I have reported these things to the police department in the past,” Kaminowitz said. “They have told me that while they make every effort to catch the person, nine times out of 10 they don’t.”
It isn’t illegal to take pictures of people in public, including children, said Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association. But it could come with a legal risk, he said.
“You could falsely state that someone was violating a law, and if that were not true, that could be injurious to (the person’s) reputation,” Bender said. “I think it would be a better strategy to implore the police force to enforce traffic laws.”
Roberts Vaux, a Bluffton attorney with Vaux Marscher Berglind, said he would advise clients to not post such pictures online.
“I would be careful,” Vaux said. “What are the circumstances? You could snap a shot, and it is out of context. Was the driver trying to get the kid back in the car seat?”
The use of social media is especially concerning, he said.
“Things move so instantly these days,” Vaux said. “It can cause problems, and with the best of intentions you can hurt people.”
Bender said the idea of these types of Facebook groups is alarming.
“It would be a sad day if we started having lawsuits over traffic vigilantes on Facebook,” he said. “The courts probably have better things to do.”
Attempts by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette to reach administrators of the local “Bad Drivers” Facebook page were unsuccessful Wednesday. A reporter with the newspapers joined the group Wednesday but was removed following a request for comment.