R U 4 texting behind wheel?

'It's a lifeline. I have to have it. Without my cellphone, I'm lost,' said Andy Long, who drove and talked during his workday in Hollywood on Friday.

Steve Brush of Hollywood uses his cell phone a lot to stay in touch with his construction business.

While he opposes texting while driving, a ban on talking on his phone while behind the wheel would make it tougher for him to make a living, he said.

"It is a major way that I communicate with my men and my crews and my trucks all day," Brush said.

Bills making their way to the state House and Senate floors this week included a House measure that would ban text messaging and talking on a hand-held phone while driving, and Senate legislation that would bar only texting and e-mailing while driving.

The issue also has caught the attention of cities. Clemson City Council this week banned texting while driving, and officials in Charleston, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston said they are concerned.

Joe Sliker of Charleston, an owner of 82 Queen restaurant, said he recognizes the dangers of talking on a cell phone while driving. "I'm ashamed to admit that I do it," he said. "I'm as guilty as anyone else of using my cell phone while driving."

What concerns him most, though, is whether his teenage son is texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.

"I'm constantly on my youngest son about texting and driving," Sliker said. "It's just that culture now. If you're not with them, they're going to do it."

Clemson City Council on Monday approved the first ordinance in the state that bans texting while driving. It also prohibits reading text messages or printed materials or e-mailing. It establishes a fine of $100 plus court costs, and goes into effect June 1.

Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon said research has shown that a person texting while driving is 23 times more likely to have a collision than a driver whose blood alcohol level is twice the legal limit as determined by a Breathalyzer test.

Dixon said the issue is a big one for Clemson because it is a college town where students are technologically savvy.

Carolina One Real Estate agent Syd Powell said the cell phone is a useful tool in her work, but also can be a detriment to safety.

"I do think I'm partially impaired by using the cell phone and driving," she said. "Even in familiar surroundings, I think you can be distracted."

A hands-free cell phone is a better option, she said.

Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall is concerned about the issue, as is Mayor Billy Swails.

Council's Police, Legal & Judicial Committee, at Stokes-Marshall's request, voted recently to have Town Attorney Allen Young look into whether the town can regulate cell-phone use in cars.

"We think it's certainly unsafe," Swails said. "I understand it's your car and your right, but it's very dangerous. I'm more concerned about the texting than (talking on) the hand-held phones."

Stokes-Marshall said she is concerned about texting and talking on the cell phone while driving. "I see that as a safety issue. On the road, safety comes first."

Mount Pleasant police Sgt. Pat Carter said that in at least 5 percent of wrecks in the town, the driver admits to being distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone, or a witness says that was the case.

If a fatality is involved in a wreck, police try to obtain cell phone records to see if cellular communication at the time of the accident could have been a factor, he said.

Talking on a cell phone can be a good thing if a driver uses it to report a drunken motorist, although police said that sometimes, what a caller thought was a drunk driver turns out to be a distracted driver texting or talking on a cell phone.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Carter said.

Before a new Mount Pleasant regulation on cell phone use in cars could take effect, it would need a favorable recommendation from the council committee, a favorable council vote, a public hearing and a second favorable council vote.

The town needs to research the issue first, and it would need to erect signs to let people know about the change, Swails said.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal, and seven states and the district have banned driving while talking on a handheld cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and on using handheld mobile devices while behind the wheel.

North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt agreed that talking and texting on cell phones while driving is a public safety issue. He advocated hands-free cell phone communication behind the wheel. "I think it's foolish to text while you're driving," Zumalt said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted and inattentive driving contributed to nearly 6,000 roadway deaths across the country in 2008. An NHTSA study found that drivers talking on cell phones were 30 percent more likely to crash.

Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said use of cell phones while driving is more of a state than local issue. "It seems to me it could be difficult to enforce," she said.

Wilson, who spoke from her car while on a hands-free cell phone, said it was "pretty stupid" to text while driving. "We can't necessarily cure people of stupidity. You are not going to stop phone calls in cars."