A bill banning texting while driving has been approved by state lawmakers and will now go to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk, meaning South Carolina could soon become the 49th state to ban the practice.
The final vote in the S.C. House was 94-2, while the vote in the S.C. Senate was 42-2.
A spokesman for Haley’s office said on Thursday that the bill has not been ratified, and that it cannot go to her desk to be signed until it is ratified.
The bill makes it illegal for a motorist to use a wireless communication device to write, send or read a text-based communication while operating a vehicle on public streets and highways.
The original Senate version of the bill would have banned only novice drivers from using a cellphone at all while driving, but senators voted to approve House language. The House originally had a bill that banned texting while driving statewide.
Under the proposed law, drivers would still be allowed to write, send or read messages if they are legally stopped, meaning at a traffic light, a stop light or pulled over on the side of the road, according to S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
The use of GPS devices and texting to summon emergency assistance would still be permitted.
Massey voted in favor of the bill, but said he wanted the penalties to be “more reflective” of the dangers associated with texting while driving.
“It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s important that we set the policy, so it’s important that we got that on the book.”
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, also voted in favor of the law.
“I supported a statewide ban and have for several years,” he said. “I’ve heard from a lot of constituents who also support a statewide ban, and I’m glad the General Assembly has finally seen passage of a statewide texting and driving ban.”
Violators would face fines starting at $25, but would not receive penalty points on their licenses.
During the first 180 days after the law takes effect, law enforcement will only hand out warnings, which Massey called an “educational period.”
Law enforcement would not be able to confiscate or search a person’s phone to determine if a person was texting.
Additionally, the law would trump nearly 20 local ordinances around the state.
Lt. Jake Mahoney, a spokesman for the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said driving a vehicle is the most dangerous activity most people do on a daily basis, and that texting while driving amplifies the danger.
“Distracted driving is a serious and escalating problem that is responsible for many fatal collisions and collision-related injuries, not to mention millions of dollars in property damage every year,” he said. “The new law banning texting and driving will hopefully serve to deter drivers texting and encourage them to focus on driving safely, thereby preventing collisions and saving lives.”
The entire text of the bill can be read by visiting http://bit.ly/SyRAQD.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.
©2014 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)