JANUARY 28, 2010 10:16 a.m. (1)
State Rep. Don Smith, R-Aiken, was non-committal following the first public hearing of a bill that could ban the majority of drivers from texting and gabbing on their cell phones while trolling South Carolina roads.
Smith is the main sponsor of the bill that would penalize offenders $100 if they are caught texting or dialing unless they are in a tow truck heading to a wreck, calling in an illegal activity, calling for medical help or trying to prevent an injury to a person or property.
Use of hands-free cell phones would be allowed as well under the current proposed bill. A similar bill died in committee last January. The reason it failed was lawmakers said it would be too difficult to enforce.
However, Smith said he and other legislators likely will propose changes to the bill following the 90-minute hearing, but couldn’t say exactly what it might look like following a subcommittee meeting next week.
He said Wednesday’s hearing drew about 15 groups and private citizens, and he believes a full texting ban may be an easier sell to the rest of the Legislature, and cell phones may still be allowed.
Phil Owens, R-Pickens, Lanny Littlejohn, R-Spartanburg, Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, and James Harrison, R-Richland, are co-sponsors.
Smith said he drafted the proposed law after hearing about texting and cell phones from constituents wherever he went in the last six months.
“It wasn’t like I was getting a lot of calls at home, but when I would be out in the community, people would stop me and say ‘Don, what are we going to do about this,’” Smith said.
He noted he almost saw a wreck Tuesday while driving to Columbia for session where someone was texting at a traffic light. The person drove their car forward through a red light when they heard a car horn.
|Estimated Annual Incidents|
|12,000 Serious Injuries|
|Source: Harvard Center of Risk Analysis|
“It almost caused an accident,” he said.
It is estimated that six percent of all vehicle crashes in South Carolina are directly related to someone talking on their cell phone or trying to text someone else, according to a Journal analysis of state and local records.
And even then, the Highway Patrol believes the number of accidents caused by cell phones is still underreported because many times a person will give another reason for an accident and by the time a trooper arrives on scene they can’t show if the person was texting or calling.
Highway Patrol officials know distracted driving – talking to other people in the vehicle, eating, texting and cell phones – is a major problem that is emblematic of modern society.
Meredith Morris, a spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, which is trying to push for stronger laws in all 50 states, said that may be true, but the same thing was said of drunk driving and seat belt laws in the past.
“There was the same outcry, but law enforcement found ways to intervene,” she said. “And it has worked to curb the problems.”
Morris said there are worse distractions than cell phones and texting such as alcohol-impaired driving or turning the radio dial, but texting and calling distract people for longer times and more often.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Smith read data showing that people lose 37 percent of their concentration while talking or texting and people are almost three times more like to get in an accident when on a cell then when not.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 12 states have enacted full-scale bans against cell phones usage in cars, while 29 have some kind of ban on texting. Selective bans, though, are more popular as 22 states, including North Carolina, have banned them for teens, and 17, including North Carolina and Georgia, have banned them for school bus drivers.
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