MOUNT PLEASANT — It soon could be illegal to text and drive in Mount Pleasant, but motorists still would be able to talk on their hand-held phones.
Town Council voted Tuesday night to approve a ban on texting while driving.
“The bottom line is safety,” said council member Thomasena Stokes-Marshall.
“Can we stop it (texting) totally? No. If we do nothing, people will continue doing what they are doing,” she said.
Violators would be subject to a $50 fine. If a traffic accident is involved, a driver could face an additional fine of up to $200, according to a copy of the ordinance, which got initial approval on a 6-3 vote.
Voting in favor of the new law were Stokes-Marshall, Elton Carrier, Chris O’Neal, Craig Rhyne, John Burn and Mayor Billy Swails.
“I pass these young people every day. And how in the world they drive I’ll never understand,” Carrier said.
Carrier said he hopes that the ordinance will spark a discussion between parents and children about the dangers of texting while driving. He said Mount Pleasant should put up signs at the city limits advising that it is a “non-texting town.”
There were 379 distracted-driving collisions in Mount Pleasant through June, he said.
The new law also applies to viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games and viewing or retrieving email and other electronic data.
A second favorable council vote is required before the ban on texting while driving becomes law. The next scheduled council meeting is Sept. 10. If the ban is approved, Mount Pleasant would become the first local municipality to ban texting while driving.
Chris Nickels, Ken Glasson and Linda Page voted against the ban on texting while driving.
Nickels said the measure would be nearly impossible to enforce. Glasson agreed, saying that the issue was one for the state to address rather than municipalities.
Page said it is “terrible” to text and drive, but, “I think it’s a personal responsibility to teach your children what to do.”
Before the texting ban vote, council voted 8-1 to reject a broader measure that would have banned talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving. Swails cast the dissenting vote.
Under the provisions of the approved ordinance, law enforcement may not stop a person unless an officer has probable cause to believe that texting while driving is occurring based on a clear and unobstructed view.
If a person is stopped on suspicion of texting while driving, the cellphone or other device believed to have been used for texting may not be seized but it may be viewed by an officer to determine if texting occurred at or about the time of the suspected violation. An officer may seek a court subpoena for phone records of the device, the ordinance states.
An officer may not search or request to search a motor vehicle simply because of observed violation of the anti-texting law. And arrest of the driver is prohibited, according to the ordinance.
Nearly a dozen municipalities, including Beaufort, Columbia, Sumter and Clemson, have passed their own texting-while-driving bans.
Neither Charleston nor North Charleston have tried to follow suit.
South Carolina is among a few states that still allow texting while driving. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 41 states and the District of Columbia.
Several attempts in the General Assembly to pass a statewide ban on texting while driving have failed.
Distracted or inattentive driving this year has played a role in 23 fatal collisions, according to S.C. Department of Public Safety data. There have also been 1,836 collisions that involved injury, 4,621 collisions that involved property damage and 6,480 total collisions.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that drivers who are distracted by mobile communication devices cause as much danger to public health as drunken motorists, speeders and those who do not use seat belts.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting makes a driver at least 20 times more likely to have an accident or near-accident.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711