Mount Pleasant Town Council gets a big :-) for taking on the issue of people using hand-held devices while driving.
If council members pass a ban they will get something much better — the satisfaction of protecting their constituents from behavior that experts know is dangerous.
At issue is a proposed ordinance that makes it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone to call or text while driving. The cost of being cited for doing so is $162.50 — more if the violation occurred at the time of a traffic accident.
Council’s Police, Legal and Judicial Committee recommended the ordinance, but the vote was close: 2-1. And it appears full council will also be divided.
Where council members Thomasina Stokes-Marshall, Elton Carrier and John Burn support the idea, some others don’t. One hesitation is understandable. Banning the use of hand-held devices while driving should be done statewide, not city by city, leaving drivers confused by which places have bans and which don’t.
South Carolina is one of a handful of states that doesn’t have a texting ban. The Legislature has failed repeatedly to enact a ban, leaving motorists and pedestrians at risk of being killed or injured by someone who runs a stoplight while punching in a message to a friend.
Since South Carolina’s Legislature has refused to step up, the next best thing is for local jurisdictions to take action.
Beaufort, Columbia, Sumter and Clemson are among municipalities with such bans.
Mount Pleasant, which is known as a family-friendly place to live and work, would be living up to that label were council to approve the proposed ban.
As written, it doesn’t overreach. Police must have an unobstructed view of someone using a hand-held device while driving in order to cite him. Police, firefighters and paramedics, and drivers calling 911 to report emergencies, are exempt. And police may inspect a driver’s phone to determine when a call or text was made.
Further, Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie said that if the ban is passed, his officers will be concentrating on drivers who are visibly distracted.
Some people oppose texting-while-driving bans as an infringement of their personal rights. Driving is not a right. The privilege of driving has to be earned by passing a test. It is maintained by abiding by laws.
Banning the use of hand-held devices by drivers is no more invasive than outlawing driving drunk or limiting speed. Such laws are meant to protect people.
As dramatic as the statistics are that document the danger of driving while distracted, people continue to make phone calls and text people while behind the wheel.
And as obvious as the need for a statewide law, the General Assembly has failed to pass one.
So the Mount Pleasant Town Council would be acting responsibly if it votes in favor of a ban at its Tuesday, Aug. 13, meeting.
Charleston City Council and North Charleston City Council should take up the issue as well.