So Mount Pleasant believes it can do something that the state can’t even handle.
No, not pave roads — separate yuppies from their cellphones.
The town has drafted an ordinance to make it illegal to fiddle with any hand-held device while driving. Council discusses it next week.
It sounds good on the surface, and residents seem to support it. Trouble is, if they don’t scale this back to the original intent — banning texting while driving — the whole thing will get dropped quicker than a call between cell towers.
This is a tricky proposition. The state has tried to do this. The county has tried to do this. And now veteran Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall is tired of waiting.
But Stokes-Marshall lined up support to ban texting behind the wheel. Asking folks to hang up their phones altogether, well, is a completely different story. No matter how much sense it might make.
Hard to enforce?
This all got tangled up in red tape when the police candidly — and rightly — told town officials that a texting ban is hard to enforce.
See, if an officer spots someone messing with a cellphone while driving, that person could claim they were making a call, not texting. Then the cop is stuck. Without a subpoena, no one has to turn over their phone. That makes this costly and time-consuming. And even in the land of Milk and Honey, the police have a lot better things to do. So, town folks decided, to make it easy, they’d just ban the use of any hand-held device.
And that’s a tad harsh.
“I’m going to vote for it, but I want to see if we can narrow the focus,” says Mayor Billy Swails, who committed to the idea before it was tweaked. “With it being so restrictive on business people — Realtors, contractors — I’m not sure council will support it.”
Swails says his emails are running two-to-one in favor of the ban, but in public he hears a different story. A lot of people use their cars as offices these days, and most working people will tell you they use the car to catch up on their calls. Even if it is a little dangerous.
Councilman John Burn told Stokes-Marshall he was with her, but that was before the ban included two-way radios. That supersedes federal law and makes it almost impossible for time-sensitive businesses, like concrete companies, to operate. “I feel like we’ve overstepped a bit,” Burn says.
Nobody says texting while driving is a good thing, but South Carolina governments never seem to be able to pass a ban. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who proposed the state law, says apathy gets in the way. “Some people just don’t care,” he says.
The best way to win support, Gilliard says, is with testimonials from people who have lost loved ones in car crashes that involved texting while driving. He says that typically drives it home.
But there are other problems. Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey, who tried to pass a similar ban, was told that these laws are not only hard to enforce, they infringe on personal liberty.
“Those are not good reasons to do nothing,” Qualey says.
But that’s what Mount Pleasant has to deal with here. The fact is, no one wants the government in their home, so they probably don’t want it in their car either.
Even if using a smartphone while driving is, uh, not too smart.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org