Charleston City Council approves stiff ban on texting and other phone use while driving
Charleston City Council’s texting-while-driving ban drops the hammer on just about every e-phone feature except talking.
As written, drivers cannot legally look down to scroll through their e-stored music. They can’t use a phone’s global positioning application while moving around town — unless the sought-after address is plugged in before they leave a parking spot.
And for anyone looking to document their trip, no more “selfie” shots of you or your friends since the snapping, viewing or transmitting of photos is also a violation.
Even more limiting: The ban has been expanded to cover drivers in control of just about anything with wheels, including cars, bikes, buses, trucks, golf carts, skateboards, mopeds, horse carriages and rickshaws.
The exception for any of these is if the activity can be done hands-free.
But take a breath. Police Chief Greg Mullen said it won’t be the department’s goal to aggressively write tickets for anyone caught violating the distracted-driving ordinance. Instead, he wants to focus on changing driver behavior.
Tuesday’s first reading passed with little-to-no opposition, though some members of council still had questions how the ban will ultimately be enforced covering a practice that is widespread, largely among younger drivers.
“If you’re going to use your fingers and all that stuff, you’ve got to stop and park,” Councilman Bill Moody said in explaining the goal of the measure.
Dialing a phone number on a smart phone, or simply talking behind the wheel, will remain legal.
Two weeks after Mount Pleasant passed its texting ban, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said it was important for Charleston to pass something similar, in part, because so many people travel between the two municipalities, making uniformity key.
A Mount Pleasant spokesperson said the town is still in its driver education period, and that no violation or warning tickets have been written by any of its officers to date.
Riley also said he hoped that by having the two adjacent jurisdictions adopt bans, it would encourage the state legislature to pass a statewide prohibition aimed at outright ending the danger of texting behind the wheel everywhere in South Carolina.
Among the areas listed as City of Charleston violations are: “viewing, taking, or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving email, text messages, or other electronic data,” the ordinance says.
Police officers cannot stop someone suspected of violating the text ban unless there is probable cause a violation has occurred, based on an officer’s “clear and unobstructed view,” the ban reads, of someone’s use of a handheld electronic communication device.
Anyone violating the ban faces a fine of $100 plus court costs, the ordinance says. Police could subpoena records of the device, if necessary.
Mullen said one thing he does not envision is creating teams to go out and enforce the ban. Instead, he wants his officers to use the ordinance and its safety goals “as an opportunity to change behavior.”
Blatantly dangerous use of an e-device or evidence that a device use played a contributing part in an accident, would draw a stiffer application, he added.
Mullen envisions a 90-day education period aimed at reaching city drivers and tourists before his officers begin an uptick in enforcement.
The ban must face two more readings, scheduled at the next council meeting in October, before being formally adopted, which is expected.
Exemptions to the city’s anti-texting ordinance include cars that are in a stationary and parked position, people simply talking on a device, responders working in the course of official duties, or someone trying to contact 911 or other emergency or public safety assets.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.