Crime & Public Safety

Bluffton wants to ban distracted driving. And it’s way more than just cellphone use

Driving seems to be the last thing on these motorists’ minds

Texting isn't the only form of distracted driving. From eating to applying makeup, here's what a photographer observed in Tacoma, Washington, a few years ago.
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Texting isn't the only form of distracted driving. From eating to applying makeup, here's what a photographer observed in Tacoma, Washington, a few years ago.

A formal request to amend the South Carolina Code of Laws to include a ban on all forms of distracted driving — including eating, talking to other passengers, applying makeup and adjusting the radio — will be sent to the state legislature, the Bluffton Town Council decided this week.

The resolution, which the council approved unanimously Tuesday night, encourages members of the state General Assembly to add a definition and prohibition of distracted driving to the Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways. South Carolina banned texting while driving in 2014, with violators issued a $25 fine.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” According to a 2019 study by the administration, 3,166 people were killed by distracted driving in 2017.

Bluffton’s pitch for a tougher distracted-driving law will be a challenge in the South Carolina General Assembly. No state in the country has passed such restrictions.

Deputy Town Manager Scott Marshall said the goal of the resolution is a completely “hands-free South Carolina.”

To better address and understand this issue, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said the town partnered with Lutzie 43 Foundation, a group working to inform young people about the dangers of distracted driving. Sulka said it’s also important for parents and adults to be role models when it comes to behavior behind the wheel.

“When you sit in your car, clear your head,” she said. “Clear your hands. Clear your eyes.”

This isn’t the first time state officials have discussed broadening the definition of distracted driving. In 2018, S.C. legislators introduced a bill to prohibit drivers from handling any type of electronic device — including making phone calls — on the road. The bill would also have increased the fine for violators from $25 to $200. However, that bill did not pass, and there are no laws in S.C. that prohibit distracted driving beyond texting.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 19 U.S. states have laws prohibiting drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Although no states ban all cell phone use for all drivers, 39 states ban cell phone use by “novice drivers.” Ten states — including South Carolina — have preemption laws that prevent jurisdictions from enacting their own distracted driving bans.

Last summer, Georgia passed a hands-free law that banned texting, calling, navigating — any use of a cellphone, tablet or laptop while driving. Since the law took effect in July 2018, the Georgia State Patrol said the state has issued over 24,000 citations.

The resolution approved by Bluffton’s council Tuesday night was just a recommendation. Due to state uniformity laws, local jurisdictions can’t adopt changes to the code of laws; only the General Assembly has that power.

The Growth and Development Reporter for the Island Packet, Kacen Bayless is a native of Ballwin, Missouri. In the past, he’s worked for St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree with an emphasis in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri in 2019.
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