Texting bill likely dead issue

Texting and driving.

COLUMBIA -- Despite data from advocates showing that texting while driving is a deadly practice, South Carolina lawmakers probably won't get around to dealing with the issue this year.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said Tuesday that with two days left in the session and a still unfinished state budget, the Senate does not have time to work out concerns over a texting ban.

McConnell said he would vote for a ban, but he said the Senate lost the time it had available to debate one when it got tied up in other issues last week.

The news that the bill was likely dead for the year drew outrage from an advocate of a ban.

Tom Crosby, vice president of communications for AAA Carolinas, said adjourning without passing a text messaging ban is "legislative irresponsibility."

"The inability sometimes to recognize these types of social ills -- and that's what this is -- really leads to disastrous consequences, and the Legislature doesn't want to take responsibility and that's a shame," Crosby said.

"It is one of the most dangerous activities you can do behind the wheel. Your hands are not on the wheel, your eyes are not on the road and your mind is not on driving."

About two dozen states have passed some form of a ban on talking and texting while driving. About 2,600 people died nationwide in 2008 in crashes that involved cell phone use, and drivers who use cell phones are four times as likely to be involved in a crash than those who don't, according to statistics by AAA Carolinas.

Previous coverage

Key approval for texting ban

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2010/mar/11/key-approval-for-texting-ban/

The House voted 98-18 in March to give key approval to a texting ban.

The House and Senate versions of the bill are similar. Proposals would ban drivers from typing, sending or reading e-mails and text messages while driving. Drivers would still be allowed to read, select and punch in telephone numbers to make calls.

Getting caught texting would carry a $20 fine, a $25 surcharge to go toward trauma care and result in a misdemeanor and a one-point violation on the driver's record.

McConnell said senators want time to discuss the bill. Many have concerns about how law enforcement would tell the difference between a driver making a phone call and one writing a text message.

"I think anybody driving and texting, that's dumb thing to do," McConnell said. "The problem you've got is, how do you tell the difference?"

McConnell said there wasn't support in the Senate to pass a ban on talking on a cell phone while driving. Instead of using time last week to debate the matter, he said some senators pushed a bill to require roll call voting that McConnell said faced too many barriers to becoming law this year.

Instead, McConnell said, the Senate should have changed its rules to require more roll call voting and settle the issue quicker. The time spent on that matter cost the Senate the ability to pass tort reform and a text-message ban, he said.

"Both of those are going to die on the calendar, sadly," McConnell said.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he too thinks the clock has run out on the legislation to ban texting.

"I don't see us working that out," Martin said.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails said Town Council was waiting to see what action the Legislature took before taking a vote on a text-messaging ban while driving within the town. Swails said the town will proceed with its own ban if the legislators don't act in time. He said texting while driving is a safety concern.

Clemson City Council became the first city in South Carolina to approve a ban, which went into effect Tuesday.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said he is disappointed that the Senate may adjourn without approving a ban. Gilliard was a co-sponsor on the House's version of the legislation.

"People are, unfortunately, losing their lives," Gilliard said.