Welcome Mt. Pleasant texting ban

  • Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Expect to see some signs very soon advising drivers that texting while driving in Mount Pleasant is illegal.

And reading between the lines, the signs will also say that a majority of Mount Pleasant Town Council’s members care enough about their constituents’ safety that they are willing to take some heat for the new ban.

Town Council approved the ban 6-3 Tuesday night and became the first local municipality to take such a step.

Charleston City Council is considering a similar ban, and as was the case in Mount Pleasant, it is likely to be a controversial vote. County Council showed no interest in a proposed ban.

It is foolish to try to refute data showing over and over that drivers who are distracted are far more likely to get in wrecks. Sending and receiving text messages is nothing if not distracting.

And it is evident that people have grown accustomed to — addicted to? — using hand-held cell phones to talk and text anywhere and anytime. They text at the dinner table, at the symphony, as they cross the street or ride their bikes and, sad to say, when they are driving.

Despite what critics of the ban say, people’s decision to text while driving is no more their personal liberty than if they decided to drink and drive. It isn’t just their own well-being at stake.

Distracted drivers run red lights, veer out of their lanes and ignore the speed limit. And when they hit a pedestrian or run into another car, their bad choice becomes other people’s bad fortune.

It is the case that bans haven’t worked as smoothly as hoped in other places. Reporter Schuyler Kropf cited a ban on texting while driving that posed problems in Columbus, Ohio. The cases are expensive to prosecute and often don’t result in guilty verdicts.

But Columbus’ law banned only texting while driving. It did not ban dialing a cellphone or accessing data and photographs.

Municipalities in the Lowcountry can learn from other cities’ failures — and successes.

Mount Pleasant’s ban wisely goes beyond sending and receiving text messages. It also bans viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games and viewing or retrieving e-mail and other electronic data.

Charleston City Council has been asked to ban texting by people riding bicycles or skateboarding.

The value of a ban like Mount Pleasant’s goes beyond citations. It raises awareness of the danger of texting while driving. It deters would-be texters who don’t want to face a fine.

And if, a year from now, Mount Pleasant finds that the ban falls short or reaches too far, it can be adjusted.

The important thing is that it’s a start, and a good one at that.

More’s the pity that the S.C. Legislature won’t live up to its responsibility to citizens and adopt a statewide ban, which would avoid confusion on the part of drivers about where texting is legal and where it isn’t.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, has tried in the past to enact a ban, and has vowed to try again.

Mount Pleasant has set a good example for other municipalities in the Lowcountry. Charleston is poised to do just as much or more to make its streets safer.

Yes, other cities and counties would do well to follow suit.

But more significant would be for the Legislature to take responsibility. Lawmakers should stop looking for excuses, start thinking of their constituents and enact a ban.

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