A Senate subcommittee on Wednesday approved S. 225, which would hit offenders with a $20 fine and a $25 charge for a state trauma care fund and add a point to their driving record. The bill would make various exceptions to the texting ban, including when a motorist is parked or stopped, using a hands-free wireless device or acting in an emergency.
The proposal would also create a six-month grace period during which officers would issue only warnings to offenders. It would allow first-time offenders to take an approved driver-education course in place of paying any penalty.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin testified Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass a state law. He said that although Columbia officials are weighing whether to impose a city ban on texting while driving, he would prefer statewide consistency instead of a city-by-city hodgepodge of ordinances.
"Not having several different laws applying to literally three or four jurisdictions that most of us probably drive through every single day would be very helpful," he said. "We look forward to you all pre-empting us at some point."
Austin Coates, of a motorcyclists' rights group called ABATE South Carolina, said the ban would improve biker safety but said the proposed fine was too small to present a deterrence.
A similar bill, H. 3119, was introduced in December by Rep. Joe McEachern, D-Columbia, who took issue with the patchwork of texting laws in the South. Georgia and North Carolina have bans, but Florida does not.
South Carolina's House passed a ban in the last session, 98-18, but the effort ran out of time in the Senate. Some said the issue illustrated a rift in the Republican caucus between traditional members and tea party-leaning lawmakers who saw the proposed texting ban as government intrusion.
Nearly 30 states have outlawed texting by drivers, and AAA and the Governors Highway Safety Association have both called it a hazard.
Reach Sarita Chourey at firstname.lastname@example.org.