Statewide solution best for texting and driving

Hilton Head Island's Town Council recently took up the subject of a ban on texting while driving.

It's worth discussing; such a ban could bring some incremental safety to island roads, and many of Hilton Head's visitors are used to prohibitions against texting while driving in their home states.

South Carolina is now one of only five states with no rules about texting while driving. Thirty-nine states ban it for all drivers under all circumstances.

But rather than cobble together a comprehensive ban one municipality or one county at a time, South Carolina's legislature should pass a statewide ban. Drivers would be much more likely to follow a law more widely enforced.

Last fall, the city of Beaufort joined six other municipalities in banning texting while driving. Beaufort also prohibits drivers under 18 from using a handheld cellphone while driving.

We understand the reasons for doing so, but residents and officials from those municipalities should continue to pressure lawmakers to prohibit texting while driving statewide.

Last year, the House passed a bill banning handheld cell phone use and texting for drivers under 18 and banning texting for all drivers in highway construction and school zones. The bill got two of three readings in the Senate before the session ended.

Texting while driving should be illegal for all drivers, not just those of a certain age or in specific situations.

Several bills on the subject have been introduced this session. The House bill that seems to be getting the most traction would levy a $100 fine and two points on a driver's record for using an "electronic communication device" to compose, read or send an electronic message.

It becomes a felony charge if doing so results in great bodily injury or death. The penalty would be a fine of $2,500 to $5,000 and up to five years in jail in the case of great bodily injury and a fine between $5,000 and $10,000 and up to 10 years in jail in the case of death.

The bill received a favorable report from the House Education and Public Works Committee, but was sent to the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6.

A Senate bill, now in subcommittee, would charge a $25 fine for a first offense and $50 for a repeat offense. No points would be assessed against the driver's record and the driver's insurance company would not be notified. A citation could not used against a driver in a lawsuit as evidence of negligence.

It's a very tepid bill compared with the House bill and would probably do little to curb a potentially dangerous practice.

Lawmakers should not let another session go by without acting, and they should pass a law that has some teeth in it.

If they don't get it done, who can blame local officials for passing their own bans.