SC's new texting ban won't yield many tickets

Lives will likely be saved by a new statewide ban that prohibits drivers from texting while behind the wheel.

The activity is still allowed for those stopped at red lights or stop signs. And texting to summon emergency services is also permitted. Drivers who violate the law will face fines starting at $25.

The bill, along with a second one that requires all repeat DUI offenders to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles, mean our state roads will be safer.

The texting ban replaces a hodge podge of local restrictions around the state. Drivers will no longer be confused as they travel from one town to the next, trying to figure out where texting is allowed and where it isn't.

While the ban is imperfect (drivers should be prohibited from texting at red lights too) we thank House members and senators who overwhelmingly supported the bill and got something on the books rather than playing an all-or-nothing political game that would have resulted in nothing getting passed.

Now comes the difficult task of enforcing the ban. Under the new law, police are prohibited from confiscating or viewing a cell phone to determine whether a driver was texting.

The result will likely be a large number of police-said-driver-said situations where officers insist a driver was texting while drivers claim they were dialing a phone number, taking a photo or engaging in other activities possible on cell phones -- all of them legal. The new law only prohibits the composing, sending and reading of text-based communications.

As a result, we anticipate that police will issue far more warnings than actual citations, limiting the ban's effectiveness.

While that is unfortunate, we agree that law enforcement should be barred from confiscating cell phones. People keep financial and medical information, photos and a litany or other personal data on these wallet-size computers. Allowing police to scroll through a cell phone's content is the same as allowing them to search a home office. It should not be allowed without a warrant.

Just how much cell phone privacy a person has a right to is in the national spotlight. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a pair of cases that deals with the constitutionality of warrantless cell phone searches when the phone's owner is arrested. The high court's decision will provide additional direction on what expectation of cell phone privacy we can all expect in the future.

In the mean time, let's hope drivers itching to text will be deterred by the mere potential of getting pulled over and having to explain themselves to a police officer. The mere presence of the ban on the state's books stigmatizes the practice and may be enough to convince some drivers to put the phone down.