Charleston City Council wants the public's input on outlawing texting behind the wheel, setting a public hearing date for Sept. 9.
But already some see problems with it.
Councilman Mike Seekings said the ordinance, as written, is ripe for traffic-stop confusion over whether a texting violation actually occurred. For instance, he said there is not much difference between the physical act of someone typing in a text (which would be illegal under the city's proposed ordinance) versus dialing in a phone number (which wouldn't be). He also questioned whether police could effectively make cases.
While the bill allows officers to subpoena phone records of drivers who are stopped, Seekings, an attorney, said those records might only list the “minute” that a text was sent — not the actual “second” — allowing for courtroom wiggle room.
“It's unenforceable,” Seekings said.
Another factor raised at Wednesday's council meeting was the potential cost to the city of making those prosecutions, since issuing subpoenas for records from a phone company or time carrier could potentially be expensive.
Wednesday's comments came as the texting behind the wheel debate has spread significantly in the days since it was embraced earlier this month by the town of Mount Pleasant. Charleston County Council will consider the idea Thursday, while the Town of James Island is also looking at it. Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said Wednesday that he may gauge his council's receptiveness next week to the idea.
Charleston's ban, supported by Mayor Joe Riley, would prohibit drivers from using hand-held devices behind the wheel to cover any form of texting, the reading of texts, emailing or typing. Simply talking on a cellphone while driving is not being targeted.
The fine for violators is set at $100, plus court costs. Enforcement would be done by city police officers who observe the practice.
During his time addressing the city's Traffic and Transportation Committee, Riley compared the ordinance to the same sort of public safety need that arose out of ensuring people riding in a car are wearing their seat belts.
“It's protecting the other driver or pedestrian,” Riley said, pointing to what can go wrong if someone's eyes leave the road while texting.
“We all know these things become addictive,” he added.
Charleston's ordinance, if passed later this fall, would cover any person in charge of a motor vehicle in motion on a public street or highway within the city limits. Exceptions include the operator of a motor vehicle that is lawfully parked or stopped, or a law enforcement officer, a member of a fire department or the operator of a public or private ambulance who is in the course of performing their official work duties.
For violators, no driver's license penalty points would be assessed.
There's also a chance the city's ordinance could be greatly altered. Seekings suggested going “hands-free” for all devices used by drivers on city roads be considered as well. And, during a break in the meeting, Councilman William Dudley Gregorie raised the idea of considering a ban on texting for all moving vehicles, such as bikes and skateboards.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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