Council hits brakes on ban

Texting while driving

MELISSA HANELINE

MOUNT PLEASANT -- A proposed ban on text messaging while driving lost momentum Tuesday night when Town Council decided it needed more study.

Before its 6-0 vote, council held a public hearing on the issue that drew only five speakers.

"It is an issue of safety, not one's personal right. The safety of the public is government's first obligation," Henry Seigling said.

Frank Smith said he agreed that driving and texting is dangerous but he contended it would be burdensome and difficult to enforce a ban. However, if a police officer sees a driver texting and feels it is dangerous, the officer can cite the motorist for careless driving, Smith said.

Town Council's Police, Legal and Judicial Committee on March 1 voted 3-1 to ban texting while driving. Mayor Billy Swails and Council members Thomasena Stokes-Marshall and Nick Collins favored outlawing texting behind the wheel in that vote. Swails was absent Tuesday because he was on vacation.

Stokes-Marshall and Collins voted Tuesday with four other council members to send the measure back to the committee for more study. Others voting on the issue were Craig Rhyne, Linda Page, John Burn and Paul Gawrych, who cast the lone dissenting vote at the committee level last month.

Clemson City Council on Feb. 15 became the first in the state to impose a municipal ban on texting behind the wheel. Clemson University researchers found that when drivers were texting, at least some part of the vehicle was out of the lane 10 percent of the time.

Although he initially supported a texting ban, Swails said recently that he thinks the issue is best handled by the General Assembly. The House of Representatives on March 11 approved a bill that prohibits sending text messages on a cell phone while motoring. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Swails said a few days ago that he is looking to the Legislature to address the issue statewide because that would eliminate the possibility of a confusing patchwork of regulations. For instance, texting might be illegal in Mount Pleasant but legal on Isle of Palms, or vice versa. "Hopefully, we get some traction in the Legislature. I hope they do it (ban texting) before we do it. In this case, it really needs to be a statewide ban rather than one municipality," he has said.

Charleston is considering a prohibition on texting while driving. City Council referred the issue to its Public Safety Committee. City Council plans to wait and see what the General Assembly does with the issue before moving ahead any further on it, said Barbara Vaughn, director of media relations.

Nineteen states, including North Carolina, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws governing texting while driving. Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and on using handheld mobile devices while behind the wheel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.