Charleston drivers, put down your cellphones

  • Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 12:01 a.m.

If you drive, walk, bike or skateboard in Charleston, you might want to thank Charleston City Council for looking out for your safety.

Council Tuesday gave final approval to a law aimed at reducing some of the distractions that frequently contribute to accidents. Charleston joins some 13 cities in the state, including Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Columbia, Clemson, Hilton Head, Greenwood and Camden, to ban drivers from sending and reading text messages.

But Charleston wisely expanded its law to include people operating bikes, golf carts, skateboards, mopeds and rickshaws.

And further, the city’s law makes it illegal to view, take or transmit images; play games; compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save or retrieve email; or text messages.

In other words, don’t be fiddling with electronic devices when you should be looking where you’re going and keeping your hands on the steering wheel or handlebars.

The most obvious way to address the problem would be a statewide ban, but several attempts to pass such legislation have failed. Legislators’ excuses are inadequate. Drivers do not have a “right” to text while driving, but people do have a right to feel safe on streets and highways.

Further, a texting ban is every bit as enforceable as laws requiring seat belts. And like seat belt laws, a texting ban could save lives.

Indeed, South Carolina is one of only three states without a distracted driving law. Forty-four have texting bans. Twelve outlaw the use of all hand-held devices while driving.

Around the globe, nationwide bans exist everywhere from Australia, Austria and Bahrain to Turkmenistan, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Surely South Carolina’s leaders can find a way to pass a state ban. Even the telecommunications industry is recognizing the danger of texting while driving. Application developers have come up with products designed to halt the practice.

But people have become accustomed to steering a car with their elbows while they punch in messages on their smart phones.

As of last December, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the United States every month, according to CTIA, a nonprofit trade association representing the wireless communications industry.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

Charleston’s streets and roads — urban, suburban and rural — have challenges as motorists, bicyclists and skateboarders share space; as traffic starts and stops, sometimes suddenly; and as country roads abut huge live oaks.

City Council has made a reasoned move to limit distractions, and therefore reduce serious and potentially fatal accidents.

The S.C. General Assembly should stop stalling and approve a statewide ban in 2014. But meanwhile, the more cities, towns and counties that enact bans, the safer our roads will be.

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