County should ban texting while driving

01/08/09- Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette
01/08/09- Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette

Beaufort County should join Hilton Head Island and Beaufort in banning texting while driving. Bluffton, Port Royal and Yemassee should, too.

The practice is dangerous, and consistent enforcement and education efforts across the county would help reduce the number of drivers putting themselves and others at risk.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, whose department provides law enforcement for Hilton Head, supports the idea. He suggests modeling a county ordinance, which would be in effect in unincorporated areas, after Hilton Head's ordinance. That ban was modeled on a state House bill that has received support.

It's a good idea. A county ban that mirrors Hilton Head's ban, which went on the books July 2, would make deputies' enforcement easier and more consistent.

A statewide ban also would boost consistency, but we're not holding our breath for that. Lawmakers repeatedly have failed to pass a texting ban of any kind.

There's little risk that drivers from other states will be confused by a local ban. Many of them are used to such bans. Forty-one states ban texting for all drivers. All but four of those state have primary enforcement, which means a police officer can pull someone over for the single offense of texting while driving. Six other states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

Beaufort and Hilton Head are two of at least 11 municipalities in the state that have banned texting while driving. Beaufort's ordinance went into effect last November. City officers had written about 30 warning and three tickets by mid-June, Chief Matt Clancy reports.

"We lean more toward writing warning tickets because the intent is to get the behavior to stop," Clancy said. "Whether you get a ticket or a warning, the stop is what gets your attention. ... The word is getting out, and people are reminding each other, which is what we want. The education part is more important than the actual punishable part."

That's a reasonable approach. The goal should be to get people to stop doing it, not to write a lot of tickets.

Beaufort's ban also prohibits cellphone use by drivers younger than 18, a good idea for Hilton Head, the county and the other municipalities.

South Carolina is out of step with no ban on texting while driving. We should continue to push lawmakers, but the lack of a statewide ban is no reason for Beaufort County and its municipalities to stay out of step with the rest of the country, too. Our roads are dangerous enough.