COLUMBIA - South Carolina drivers should be subject to stiff fines and penalties for texting while driving, a state Senate subcommittee decided Thursday, as senators try to gain momentum on an issue where municipalities around the state have begun to enforce their own bans.
Under the bill, S. 416A, first offense would mean a fine of $100, up to 30 days in jail and two points on an offender's driver's license. A second texting-while-driving offense would mean a fine of $500, possible jail time and four points on a driver's license - meaning the driver's vehicle insurance rate would shoot up.
A first-time offender could also take a class instead of facing other penalties.
The subcommittee also recommended a measure, S. 459, that would prohibit drivers with beginner's permits or restricted licenses from talking on the phone. Both measures are expected to be considered by the full Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.
Past efforts to pass a statewide ban have failed. To fill the void, local governments around the state have banned the practice, including Charleston and Mount Pleasant. Greenville leaders passed a texting and driving ban Feb. 10. Senators said a uniform statewide ban would improve enforcement and level drivers' expectations. State law would trump local measures.
In many ways, the state's measure is less strict than Charleston's, as senators endorsed numerous exceptions. Charleston's ordinance targets a list of potential contributors to distracted driving. Drivers cannot legally look down to scroll through their e-stored music. Another taboo is on using a phone's GPS application while moving around town, unless the destination is plugged in before a car begins to move. Taking or sending photographs is also banned.
Under the Senate measure, those using GPS, in parked or stopped vehicles dialing a number or texting for emergency assistance, as well as entering a phone number or choosing a contact, would not be affected by the ban.