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South Carolina's new texting law will be difficult to enforce, authorities say

Friday, June 20, 2014 6:20 PM
Last updated Monday, June 23, 2014 12:24 AM
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South Carolina has a new law to enforce, but local Georgia police say it can be difficult.

The Palmetto State became the 49th to outlaw texting while driving for all drivers on June 9. Georgia made it illegal in 2010. Montana is now the only state without a statewide ban.

“It’s just a very difficult thing for us to enforce, as you can imagine, especially when we’re not in unmarked cars,” said Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Chris Wright of texting.

While riding his motorcycle in his off-time, Wright frequently sees drivers texting behind the wheel, but when he pulls up to a vehicle in his bright blue police car, most phones go down, speeds decrease and unfastened seatbelts begin to click.

Drivers pulled over for suspected texting often claim to be dialing, which is not considered illegal.

Both states require police to have a “clear and unobstructed view” of a text-based act that includes text messages, e-mail and instant messaging before a citation is issued, but they are not allowed to view the phone to see if a text has been received or sent during the time period.

In some states, such as New York, where all cellphone use is prohibited, the law is easier to enforce, Wright said.

Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Nick Gallam compared enforcement to writing a ticket for improper seatbelt usage, but even that is easier.

“We’ll do the best we can,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It’s a step in the right direction.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. At least 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit to having extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

In five seconds, the average time to send or read a text, a vehicle traveling 55 mph covers the length of a football field, according to the NHTSA.

Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Calvin Chew said mostly the law is in place to make drivers more aware of the dangers.

“They might think twice before texting while driving now,” he said.

Richmond County sheriff’s Cpl. Chuck Benson recalls at least two fatalities in the past several years that stemmed from texting. In many cases, however, it’s difficult to tell for sure after the fact.

The Aiken County Coroner’s Office does not have information on whether texting was a factor in its traffic fatalities.

At least 19 South Carolina cities and two counties already had ordinances on texting, but Aiken County was not one of them.

Aiken Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jake Mahoney said officers will be focusing on driver education first. South Carolina police have been instructed to only write warnings for the first 180 days.

“Unfortunately, it will be a challenge,” Mahoney said. “This is new to our agency. We didn’t have a city ordinance so we have to develop our own tactics and techniques to enforce the law.”

Wright said after much discussion of the law he learned that it’s easier to write a ticket for a result of the texting instead of the act itself. Although he might not be able to prove in court the driver was texting, his dash cam could prove things like the driver crossing the line.

“That’s probably the best approach we have to it unfortunately,” he said.

Georgia’s law is not specific on when it is and isn’t lawful to text, only saying it’s unlawful “while driving.” According to Wright, the legislation isn’t specific on whether a driver is “driving” while stopped at a red light or stop sign.

South Carolina’s law exempts texting while parked, stopped at a stop sign or red light, using GPS functions, texting a request for emergency assistance or performing duties as a public safety official, according to the Associated Press. South Carolina’s fines are also the second cheapest in the nation at $25. Georgia’s is six times higher at $150. California has the cheapest at $20 and Alaska has the most expensive at $10,000 or a year in prison. Alaska also considers the act a felony, the Associated Press says.

“A distracted driver is just as bad as someone under the influence,” Wright said. “It may be worse.”

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jimmymac 06/21/14 - 08:51 am

This new texting law shows just how stupid and feckless the morons we elect. All they had to do is copy a law already on the books in most of the states. No, they make a law that's so useless and timid that no one will ever be deterred from texting while driving. It virtually ties the hands of the officers who are supposed to enforce it. Good Lord!

oldredneckman96 06/21/14 - 02:12 pm
That was easy, what do you want next?

Apparently some people in law enforcement do not realize that every text and phone call has a time stamp attached and is recorded by the service provider this with the GPS location recorded by many phones are lock for convictions. When a person commits a traffic violation and texting is suspected, it is easy to check these records and send a text to the convicted and take the dummy’s license.

Young Fred
Young Fred 06/22/14 - 01:19 am
Hard to enforce?

I call BS on that. Every single time I drive, if their is someone driving erratically, or like an ignorant fool, they're either texting or have a cell phone stuck to their ear.

It never fails! It's just one of those given truths.

whyme 06/22/14 - 03:54 pm
more than texting

Here's the thing: with the new phones, folks may not be texting so they may be able to argue themselves out of a ticket. What they are actually doing is going online, reading email, watching videos, posting on Facebook, taking and posting selfies, and pretty much everything else that one can do on the phone. Amazed that more accidents have not occurred.

Eos 06/22/14 - 08:59 pm
GA's Law is Weak

I make a motion to change the law so that it has less ambiguity in the state of GA. Until the future "driverless" vehicles are in place this danger will continue to exist. It is so easy to identify people using their phones while driving. Just don't do it, people. You may be very sorry, one unfortunate day.

bdouglas 06/23/14 - 11:54 am
No way they can enforce this

No way they can enforce this in any state but one with a complete ban on cell phones. No way to prove you were texting and not dialing, following map directions, changing songs or any other number of non-illegal functions of a smartphone. You can delete every text message on your phone before the car even comes to a complete stop if you were to get pulled over. No way they would bother to check phone records to see if you were texting, and they couldn't do that on the spot anyway. And if they did, no way to prove it was the exact time they saw you and not a minute before when it was at a stop light (where it's legal). This is nothing more than a symbolic law passed at the urging of groups who have pressed for laws against texting and driving.

The closest they can come to enforcing this is if you are driving erratically and they then charge you with reckless/careless driving...which is still not "enforcing" this particular law.

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