If an intersection proves dangerous, the city of Charleston’s job is to find a way to make it safer.
If a driving practice causes traffic accidents, the city needs to stop motorists from doing it.
So there should be little question that a proposed ordinance banning people from soliciting money or giving out materials on city streets deserves City Council’s support.
A panhandler who approaches a car in a lane of traffic, for example, endangers not just himself, but motorists who might not see him or who might be distracted.
A motorist who slows or stops driving in order to give someone a handful of change runs the risk of being rear-ended by another car.
Yes, many motorists have disdain for panhandlers. But this proposed ordinance also would apply to people who raise money for charities. Or those who give out religious tracts or sell newspapers.
That’s different from the ban that the city had until March of last year. It simply prohibited panhandling, which made many motorists uncomfortable and distracted visitors in their first view of Charleston. The city rescinded that ordinance after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Homeless Justice Project challenged it as a violation of free speech.
So the new approach focuses on public safety, including the well-being of panhandlers who solicit passing motorists.
Police Chief Greg Mullen proposed the ordinance, which he expects to meet with the approval of the ACLU. A similar ordinance in Manchester, N.H., got a nod from the ACLU there.
The Charleston law would not outlaw panhandling altogether — just on public streets.
It’s not surprising that those who seek contributions from passing motorists on public thoroughfares are unhappy with the proposed ordinance. Panhandlers say they have few options, and people raising money for charities note that they’re benefiting the community.
But no one benefits when someone is struck by a car and injured. Or when drivers slow down or stop and cause traffic accidents.
That’s why the ordinance applies to both the panhandler asking for money and the motorist giving it to him. The offense carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,092 fine.
According to city-data.com, 15 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2013 in Charleston. Four pedestrians were killed.
People standing in the street collecting money or handing out items only makes the streets more dangerous.
Stopping the practice is the best answer.