Beaufort County is now one of a growing number of communities in South Carolina that have banned texting while driving. It's welcome news.
The county joins Beaufort and Hilton Head Island in prohibiting the dangerous practice.
Bluffton and Port Royal should pass ordinances, too. The towns can model theirs after the other local ordinances, giving drivers and law enforcement officers a unified set of requirements and penalties.
Bluffton is particularly key. The town encompasses nearly 50 square miles. Major roads, such as S.C. 46, S.C. 170 and U.S. 278, move in and out of its boundaries. A uniform ban would be far easier for drivers to follow and officers to enforce.
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That's a good reason for a statewide ban, too. Local officials have grown weary waiting on lawmakers to pass a texting ban. Clemson got the ball rolling in 2010. The town of Mount Pleasant and Beaufort County are the latest to approve bans, both doing so this week. Hardeeville is expected to take up a texting ban Thursday, and the city of Charleston is considering one.
Texting while driving bans are past due. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
The Federal Communications Commission reports that 11 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. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this year stated that 31 percent of people surveyed said that in the past 30 days, they had read or sent at least one text message while driving.
Many lawmakers say they are for a texting ban, but they haven't gotten the job done. We are behind 41 other states in passing texting bans for all drivers. Despite several years of effort and many bills filed, none has made it into law. Bills have passed the House only to stall in the Senate.
South Carolina and Montana are alone in failing to pass any limits on texting while driving or cellphone use while driving. All but four of the states banning texting while driving have primary enforcement, which means a police officer can pull someone over for the single offense of texting while driving. Florida's ban on texting while driving for all drivers goes into effect Oct. 1.
The county's ban covers unincorporated areas and will be enforced by the Sheriff's Office. The ordinance is similar to Hilton Head's ordinance, which bans drivers from composing, sending or reading electronic messages, such as texts or emails. Drivers asking for emergency help are exempt from the ban, as are emergency responders using electronic devices in their vehicles as part of their jobs.
Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense and $300 for subsequent offenses.
Lawmakers are running out of excuses for not banning texting while driving. We should all encourage our state representatives, and especially our senators, to pass a ban. There's no good reason for delaying a key step to making our roads safer.