Friday, June 20, 2014
Texting while driving is now banned in South Carolina, thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on June 5.
Rep. Chris Murphy, who helped author a couple of the amendments on the bill, said the law went into effect immediately with Haley’s signature, but there is a 180-day grace period during which law enforcement can issue only warnings to drivers who violate the law. The grace period ends Nov. 5; after that, drivers can face fines starting at $25 but would not receive penalty points.
Murphy said original versions of the bill included a fine that was “a lot higher” than $25, and also included penalty points, but this put the bill in danger of not passing both the House and the Senate.
“The fine was reduced to get the necessary votes,” Murphy said, adding the law is about the equivalent of riding with no seatbelt.
Murphy confirmed that under the ban, the use of GPS navigators on cell phones, and texting to summon emergency services, are still permitted. Drivers are also allowed to text on a cell phone if stopped at a red light or stop sign – the vehicle cannot be in motion.
In addition, police are prohibited from confiscating or viewing a cell phone to determine whether a driver was texting – they can still subpoena phone records or issue a search warrant, but not seize the phone.
Murphy is optimistic that the move to sign the bill was a good one.
“I think it’s going to be successful,” he said.
Local law enforcement also expressed support for the governor’s decision.
“It is well documented that texting while driving is extremely dangerous,” said Capt. Jon Rogers, spokesman for the Summerville Police Department. “After the word is passed to the motoring public I am sure it will bring down the number of incidents involving driving and texting.”
Sam Richardson, chief deputy for the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, said he and the sheriff both feel the bill is a good start.
“Something needed to happen,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction. The sheriff and I feel that this is at least some type of tool or mechanism where we can stop someone and hopefully give them guidance – and hopefully that guidance will save lives.”
Richardson said deputies in the past have had to pull over people for “inattentive driving” – something Richardson has noticed more with younger people, particularly teenagers and college-aged young adults.
“Hopefully through this process we can convey to people that this is a safety hazard to people who are doing it,” he said.