Every time another municipality in South Carolina bans people from texting while driving, it sends a mixed message. It’s a wise thing to do in the interest of saving lives.
But it’s a pity that it is necessary.
The sole Hilton Head Island Town Council member who voted last week against such a ban was George Williams. He thinks the law should be passed at the state level. He’s right.
When bans are in effect in one city but not in the one next door, drivers — especially tourists who aren’t familiar with the area — can be confused.
Some will say the answer to that is for drivers who don’t know what a city’s law says simply to put down their cell phones and drive. But if it were that easy, 47 states wouldn’t have passed bans.
At present, South Carolina, Arizona and Montana are the only states without such a law. It’s a shameful sign of shortsightedness and obstinacy on the part of the Legislature.
Texting ban bills have been introduced for several years and have failed. Lawmakers worry about taking away drivers’ personal liberties.
Then why not let them drink and drive, too? Why make them have a license?
Because poor drivers’ potential victims aren’t just themselves. They can kill their passengers, people in other cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. They can damage property.
Legislators also claimed that the law would be difficult to enforce. So are seat belt laws, but they have saved countless lives.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he is pleased Hilton Head Island’s ban passed. “I think it’s a good public safety measure,” he said, apparently confident he and his deputies will figure out how best to enforce it.
The number of South Carolina cities and towns that are adopting texting bans is growing.
Mount Pleasant failed to adopt a ban, but Mayor Billy Swails said if the General Assembly didn’t pass a statewide law against texting while driving, the town would reconsider its decision.
Meanwhile, data are being gathered nationally that make it crystal clear why bans are expedient. Texting requires a driver to take at least one hand off the wheel, to look away from the road and to concentrate on something other than driving. Driving while distracted is one of the main reasons for fatal accidents.
With bans, drivers still have the liberty to send or receive text messages. They just need to pull to the side of the road first.
And law enforcement officers would likely prefer taking on the challenge of enforcing a ban to telling parents that their teen-age son or daughter died in a wreck because a driver was texting.
Hilton Head Island made the right move to enact its ban.
But it’s way past time for the Legislature to make the right move and enact one statewide.
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