Ban texting while driving

Study after study shows that texting is a distraction that contributes to crashes and related injuries and deaths.

Any driver can recite a litany of dangerous behind-the-wheel behavior. And increasingly, those lists include texting in addition to speeding, running red lights and passing on the right.

Study after study shows that texting is a distraction that contributes to crashes and related injuries and deaths.

And now S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who was shaken after running a red light while reading a text, is even more determined to ban texting while driving in South Carolina.

When drivers, researchers and law enforcement all agree that texting behind the wheel is a dangerous distraction, it’s time for the Legislature to take action.

That’s why Mr. Gilliard has sponsored a bill to ban it. A first offense conviction would bring a $250 fine or 30 days in jail, and would suspend the driver’s license for 30 days. A second offense would cost $1,000 or 60 days in jail and license suspended for 60 days, with two points on the driver’s license.

Similar legislative efforts failed last year and the one prior, with lawmakers expressing concern about personal liberties being taken away. They also cited the difficulty in enforcing such a ban.

Indeed, one 2010 study by the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after texting bans were enacted. Crash rates rose in three of the states, presumably because drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones while texting, thus increasing the time they take their eyes off the road.

But the last thing to take away from that research is the notion that bans are bad. What the study suggests is that bans need to be complemented by thorough campaigns to educate drivers about the dangers of texting while behind the wheel.

Besides, the significant amount of research that reveals the hazards of texting while driving is too compelling to dismiss.

As Prentiss Findlay reported Monday in The Post and Courier, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that drivers who are distracted by mobile communication devices cause as much danger to public health as drunk drivers, speeders and those who do not use seat belts.

And a staggering 70 percent of people say they have talked on a cellphone while driving. Far more seriously, 31 percent have sent or received text messages.

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting makes a driver at least 20 times more likely to have an accident or near-accident.

Some municipalities across the state prohibit drivers from texting. It is time for a statewide ban. A strong argument can be made for banning the use of any hand-held communication device, but texting is the most serious distraction. Banning it would go a long way toward making our roads safer and decreasing the number of distracted driving collisions.

Rep. Raye Felder, R-York, agrees. She has introduced a separate bill to make it a misdemeanor offense to text while driving.

Legislators need to consider their options, but they shouldn’t wait another year to take action.

Texting while driving is unnecessary and unnecessarily dangerous.