COLUMBIA — Sixteen-year-old Sarah Taylor knows what texting while driving could cause: danger for the person behind the wheel and anyone else on the road.
That's why the North Charleston teen thinks it's a good idea that the state might stop new drivers from using their phones while on the road. But will they listen? That's another question.
"I do think it will be a big uproar if it does actually go through," Sarah said. "Nobody is going to follow it."
The bill would allow law enforcement to stop 15- and 16-year-old drivers if they are caught text messaging or talking on a phone without a hands-free device, although the provisions allow for emergency communication.
The issue pits personal rights against safety concerns and is sure to be controversial when the House debates the proposed legislation, said Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum.
"You know as well as I do, all of us, young people included, are going to be distracted, listening to the radio, talking on our phones, eating food," he said.
Walker likened concerns with the bill to those that had legislators clashing over whether to punish people for not wearing a seat belt, and whether that 2005 law was about saving lives or micromanaging them.
Still, Walker cast the tie-breaking vote in his
House committee that sent the cell phone bill to the floor for consideration, as early as this week. He said the safety concerns were too great to ignore.
While the state Department of Public Safety does not track accidents involving cell phones, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety commissioned a study that found that using a cell phone, including hands-free devices, left drivers four times as likely to get into an accident serious enough to cause injury.
The study used data collected from 2002 to 2004 in Australia and involved drivers that received emergency room treatment. The Insurance Institute, based in Arlington, Va., found that the risk did not change dramatically between men and women or when comparing older and younger drivers.
In the United States, more than half of the states place some restriction on cell phone use by drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The majority of restrictions are on school bus drivers and teens.
In South Carolina, teens can receive a beginner's permit at age 15, and can qualify for a license without restrictions when they turn 17 and have held a permit for at least six months. The proposed bill would apply only to 15- and 16-year-olds with beginner's permits and conditional or special restricted driver's licenses.
For the first offense, teen drivers would have their license suspended for 30 days. Suspensions would last for six months and a year for the second and third offenses.
Susan Bennett of North Charleston, who has four children, the youngest now 22, said she likes the idea of the bill but does not know how it could be enforced practically. She said she never uses her phone while driving, and wishes others wouldn't either, including her own kids.
"I told them they were absolutely not to be on the phone, that it was for emergency purposes only," Bennett said. "Did they adhere to that? I seriously doubt it."
Jim Breen, instructor supervisor for Lord Ashley Driving School in North Charleston, said the bill, if it becomes law, would help inexperienced drivers stay focused on the road.
Teens not only must be taught the basics of controlling a vehicle and good driving habits but they need to know how to be defensive drivers, Breen said.
"Most teenagers are so inexperienced that if they are talking on the cell phone they are not looking at all the things they need to see," Breen said.
Sixteen-year-old Sophie Hagerty of Charleston admits to using her cell phone while she drives on occasion, but she usually doesn't text message. All the same, she said the bill is sure to "annoy a lot of teenagers, but in the end it could pay off" as word of the consequences got around.
Jan Elliott of Hanahan, a mother of two ages 19 and 20, said she thinks the legislation could make teens safer, and the consequences would make it effective.
"Driving that car means the world to them," Elliott said.