Next time you stop at a red light, glance around at the rear-view mirrors of the cars in front of you.
Chances are, you’ll see the reflections of drivers with their heads up and eyes forward. Unfortunately, you’re just as likely to see heads down and eyes on a smartphone or other electronic gadget in their laps.
And sadly, many of these motorists won’t put the phone down once the light changes.
So it’s understandable that most U.S. states – the latest being South Carolina – have adopted texting-while-driving bans since Washington became the first in 2007.
This page is not one to clamor for additional laws and restrictions on personal liberties – government does well enough without encouragement from us. But we wholeheartedly support anti-texting laws.
If texting while driving only hurt the person driving, it would be a different story. But texting is a serious public safety issue, as anyone who has ever witnessed an accident or near-accident caused by a text-messaging motorist would agree.
Operating a motor vehicle, even at the height of alertness, usually is the most dangerous thing any person does on an average day. Taking your eyes of the road to attend to a text message that, in all likelihood, is neither urgent nor vitally important, is beyond irresponsible.
“A distracted driver is just as bad as someone under the influence,” Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Chris Wright says. “It may be worse.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a quarter of teens respond to texts once or more every time they drive. At least 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit to having extended, multimessage text conversations while driving.
While we applaud South Carolina for its ban, it lacks the teeth to promote the compliance it deserves. Its $25 fine is tied with Alabama’s and Kentucky’s for second-cheapest in the nation, behind California where the fine is $20.
The Palmetto State’s fine is far lower than those in neighboring states – Georgia, $150; North Carolina, $230 – and is lower than even the municipal fines adopted by some South Carolina cities, such as Charleston, where violators faced a $100 fine. The new state law supplants those local ordinances.
And, unlike in other states, a violation in South Carolina is not considered a criminal offense, which means it will not be included in state Department of Motor Vehicles records or reported to insurance companies.
Realistically, South Carolina’s texting law will be as difficult to enforce as Georgia’s. Both states require police to have a “clear and unobstructed view” of a text-based act that includes text messages, email and instant messaging before a citation is issued.
Drivers pulled over for suspected texting often claim to be dialing, which is not considered illegal. And because officers cannot seize, search or view your phone, there is no way to prove you were texting.
South Carolina’s law exempts texting while parked; stopped at stop signs or red lights; using GPS functions; texting a request for emergency assistance; or performing duties as a public safety official. Georgia’s law is not specific, so there is some debate as to whether being stopped at a traffic light or stop sign is “driving.”
Still, a weak law in this case is better than no law. But look at New York, where all phone use is prohibited while driving; or Alaska, where texting-while-driving charges can include jail.
South Carolinians should take the new no-texting law for what it is – a friendly, though highly official, reminder that texting while driving is dangerous. If motorists can’t police themselves and put the phone down while behind the wheel, they can fully expect lawmakers to crack down with stricter and stricter laws.
And that would be nothing to LOL about.