Distracted Driving Remains Legal in South Carolina

Distracted Driving Remains Legal in South Carolina—Causes Blood and Carnage on South Carolina Highways.

Drivers who use cell phones while behind the wheel are a menace to South Carolina and are causing blood and carnage on our public streets and highways. Don’t think it’s that big of a deal? A recent survey found that 25% of car cashes involve cell phone use. Additionally, a study out of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute concludes that texting while driving doubles a drivers’ reaction time. The increased reaction time can lengthen a car’s stopping distance by half a football field at 60 miles per hour. Distracted driving may contribute up to 20 percent of all fatal crashes and cell phones are the primary distraction. Distracted driving causes over 330,000 injuries every year.

Almost every state has limits on cell phone use while driving. The only two that remain without any limits are South Carolina and Montana. While the General Assembly is debating enhancing penalties for intoxicated driving, it is having trouble enacting a simple texting ban. Texting while driving is almost SIX times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated. Not to lessen the real and dangerous threat of intoxicated driving, the far greater threat to South Carolina’s citizens is distracted driving.

Counties and cities throughout South Carolina have recognized the threat and enacted bans on distracted driving. The latest was the city of Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville’s ordinance bans drivers from using their mobile devises unless the devise can be used hands-free. Other cities and counties that have enacted mobile phone bans include Hilton Head Island, the city of Beaufort and unincorporated Beaufort County, Camden, Columbia, Wahalla, Clemson, Sumter, Mount Pleasant, and West Union.

Distracted driving bills have been introduced in South Carolina General Assembly every year since at least 2007. To date, the General Assembly has failed to pass any bills regulating distracted driving. Numerous proposals were considered in 2009-2010 and one made it fairly far, passing the House and ultimately dying in a Senate committee. That proposal was a joke, only imposing a $20.00 fine. Numerous proposals were also considered in 2011-2012, but ultimately all died in committee.

Three bills have been introduced to the General Assembly for the current session that ends in June, 2014. S.880 prohibits drivers with beginners or restricted drivers licenses from using a cell phone while driving and imposes a fine of up to $500.00. H.3317 prohibits all drivers from using a cell phone while driving and imposes a fine of up to $500. Usage of a hands-free devise is exempt. However, S.459 has made the most traction, and has passed the Senate. This proposed bill prohibits drivers with a beginner’s permit, conditional driver’s license, or special restricted driver’s license from using mobile devises while driving and imposes a $100.00 fine. S.459 is now in the House Committee on Education and Public Works. Opponents of distracted driving restrictions have been countering proposed legislation by arguing that texting bans restrict personal liberty.

While South Carolina continues to debate the personal liberty of an individual to wreak carnage and bloodshed on our streets, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has produced sample legislation designed to prevent crashes related to texting while driving. The model legislation makes it illegal to “manually type or enter multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other text in a wireless communication device, or send or read data in the device, for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication, including texting, emailing and instant messaging.” Notably, the model legislation exempts police, fire, EMS, and other officials. It also imposes a $75 dollar penalty.

Although some legislators are optimistic that the General Assembly will adopt a meaningful distracted driving ban this session, history proves otherwise. Additionally, there seems to be at least some support in the General Assembly to limiting the impact of the ban by imposing only small fines. It is hard to see how a $20.00 fine will deter distracted driving.

The General Assembly should follow the recommendation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and adopt the model bill. Delaying meaningful legislation will continue to allow distracted drivers to cause bloodshed and carnage on our streets. It is difficult to understand how any legislator can condone distracted driving in the name of personal liberty in the face of overwhelming statistics of the harm that distracted driving causes. Enacting a meaningful bill would send a message that South Carolina will not tolerate behavior that causes so much death and injury.

Brian R. Murphy is a South Carolina personal injury and car accident lawyer. His law firm, the Brian R. Murphy Law Firm helps people who have been hurt by the negligence and recklessness of others. He believes that safety rule violators should take personal responsibility and pay for the harm they cause. Brian’s firm is dedicated to promoting and pursuing justice for the injured. For more information, visit the firm online at www.brianmurphylawyer.com.


Survey: More than 1 in 4 Car Crashes Involve Cellphone Use, CBS New York (March 27, 2014) available at http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/survey-more-than-1-in-4-car-crashes-involve-cellphone-use/
New Study Says Texting Doubles a Driver’s Reaction Time, Texas A&M Transportation Institute (October 5, 2011) available at http://tti.tamu.edu/2011/10/05/new-study-says-texting-doubles-a-driver%E2%80%99s-reaction-time/
TexasDrivingSafety.com (accessed April 28, 2014) available at http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com/texting-and-driving-stats/
H.4282, 118th Session, available at http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess118_2009-2010/bills/4282.htm
Sample Law To Prohibit Texting While Driving available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/Texting_Law_021910.pdf