Florida is about to join the 39 other states that ban texting while driving. Could South Carolina become No. 41? Don’t count on it.
Despite the best efforts of lawmakers like Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, legislation to make it illegal to text while driving hasn’t been able to get the necessary traction even after three years of trying.
Rep. Gilliard, who favors tough penalties for texting motorists, has signed onto a weaker bill in hopes of getting something passed this session.
Considering the clear dangers of texting while driving, the Legislature’s reluctance is nothing short of incredible.
Texting is considered driving while distracted, but it might better be described as driving while briefly blind, as it typically requires drivers to take their eyes of the road for 4.6 seconds.
A study by researchers at Virginia Tech found that it makes a driver at least 20 times more likely to have an accident or at least a near-miss.
And an estimated 30 percent of motorists have either sent a text or read one while driving.
Many of those texting motorists are teenagers — comparative driving novices. And they suffer the highest rate of related accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Various studies have concluded that texting is more dangerous than driving while drunk, and with the increase of texting, the number of fatalities and injuries can only go up. Currently, 16 percent of distracted driver crashes involve motorists under 20.
In her column on our Commentary page today, Sue Carlton notes the weakness of having texting behind the wheel considered as a secondary violation.
But at this point, for our Legislature merely to acknowledge that texting is a hazardous activity would be an advance.
Maybe opponents fear that a secondary texting law is but an incremental step to an outright ban via primary enforcement.
In this case, we hope so.
If South Carolina’s lawmakers are unable to recognize the importance of a strong texting ban, maybe a weak one will suffice until the light bulb goes off above their heads.
Charleston County Council recently decided against a local texting-while-driving ban in hopes that a statewide prohibition would soon be in place. If that doesn’t happen this session, County Council should reconsider the local ban.
No question, a statewide ban is exactly what is needed.
The South Carolina Legislature should be able to get its act together long enough to adopt one — this year.