Wednesday, June 11, 2014
To the Editor:
June 4, 2014 was a great day for the people of South Carolina. The South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate both overwhelmingly passed a compromise bill banning most text messaging while driving.
The new act takes effect upon signing by Governor Haley. South Carolina is the second to the last state in the country (only Montana remains) to pass a statewide law dealing with texting while driving in some form.
We are also the last state in the South to approve a ban on texting. This bill is well past due, but the wait for this sensible measure is finally over and most welcome.
The law is a major improvement over an earlier version of the bill, which would have affected only the youngest drivers and those with restricted licenses. The new law applies to all drivers regardless of age.
Some counties and municipalities in South Carolina have already passed various forms of text messaging bans, which has led to a patchwork quilt of rules and penalties across the state.
The new law eliminates the patchwork by imposing one uniform state law in place of the spotty local measures.
It is estimated by some studies that as much as a quarter or more of all automobile accidents are caused by texting.
Reading or responding to a text message makes the driver some 23 times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident than otherwise.
The average driver covers the length of a football field while text messaging oblivious to constantly changing traffic conditions ahead.
Drivers will still be able to text while legally stopped or with the use of electronic assistants like Siri.
Only warning tickets will be handed out for the first six months of the law, and like seat belt violations, violations won’t go on your official driving record and once fines begin, they will be relatively minor.
As an attorney I have represented many people whose lives and property have been damaged by the consequences of distracted driving. I see and deal with this problem every day.
Up to now, insurance companies and their lawyers who defend the actions of these bad drivers in civil suits have constantly made the argument that their bad driver was not breaking any South Carolina laws. And in most parts of the state, they have been right.
That argument is now taken away. If someone breaks the law and injures you or your family you now have new rights.
Victims of accidents caused by text messaging can finally make a stronger case against these irresponsible drivers. This one factor may turn out to be the most important and beneficial consequence of this new law.
The details of the law are important and some loopholes still remain.
Cell phone conversations are still legal for all drivers, including minors, and an earlier version of the bill would have banned all use of cell phones or similar devices in school zones. Penalties and reporting requirements need to be stronger.
As time goes on, I am confident that many of these weaknesses in the law will be eliminated.
But for now, a new day has finally dawned in South Carolina.
Thank you to our local legislators from Georgetown and Horry Counties, all of whom voted in favor of the bill. Our state legislature is commended for coming together in a broad bipartisan effort to make driving safer in all of South Carolina.
There is no telling how many lives this law will save.
And for those injured by those who disregard the law, now South Carolinians finally have the law on their side when struck by a distracted driver.
Best of all, you and I, and our families and our kids are just a little bit safer today than they were a few days ago.
Dennis H. Smith