The dangers of texting while driving are so obvious that police shouldn't have to enforce laws banning it. But many motorists evidently haven't caught on to the possibly fatal folly of that appallingly popular practice.
Thus, the S.C. House finally passed legislation outlawing it Wednesday by a 97-16 margin.
Attentive drivers in our state know that such a statewide law is needed to save lives - and to eliminate confusion about the assorted texting-while-driving laws, or lack thereof, in municipalities across South Carolina.
For instance, while Mount Pleasant and Charleston are among the S.C. communities that already have laws against texting while driving, North Charleston and Summerville don't.
And many elected officials in municipalities with and without such regulations support a statewide texting-while-driving law that would supersede local ordinances.
Unfortunately, though, some House members agreed to vote for the texting-while-driving legislation only after the fine for this violation was reduced to a paltry $25 - the same as the penalty for not wearing a seat belt.
And though Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, did vote for the House bill, he offered this dubious justification for insisting that the fine be that low: "If you don't think we're cutting into our liberty, I want you to rethink that."
Since when does your "liberty" include the liberty to put others at reckless risk by driving while texting?
And why should not wearing a seat belt, which puts only yourself in peril, carry the same penalty as texting while driving, which puts everybody on the road in peril?
Clearly, the Senate should increase the fine in its version of the texting-while-driving ban.
Some studies have even found that driving under the distraction of texting is more hazardous than driving under the influence of alcohol. And over the last few decades, lawmakers across the land have rightly strengthened the legal consequences of DUI as awareness has spread about the terrible toll - including lives lost - inflicted by that crime.
For instance, the S.C. Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to pass "Emma's Law," named for Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old Lexington girl killed by a DUI repeat offender in 2012.
That legislation, approved last week by the House, mandates an interlock ignition in cars of drivers convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent or higher. The offender must blow into it before driving, and if any alcohol is detected, the vehicle won't start.
And once you start your vehicle and hit the road, presumably while sober, stop your texting.
Otherwise, once you cause a wreck because you were paying attention to that little screen instead of the big-picture responsibility of watching the road, the consequences could be far more painful than any legal punishment.
The Legislature has been far behind the curve on the texting ban, prompting those municipal prohibitions against it. And 43 states already have laws against texting while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This issue has been repeatedly up for the Legislature's consideration over the past few years.
And now it's past time for a uniform state law that deters this reckless - and potentially deadly - activity in South Carolina.
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