South Carolina Texting Laws

South Carolina Distracted Driving Law

  1. South Carolina has a distracted/inattention attribute under contributing factors.

South Carolina’s Texting While Driving Stand

South Carolina may soon join the growing list of states that have placed bans on text messaging while driving. A bill originally authored by Rep. Don Bowen was recently approved by the full House, and now only requires one more House vote before it is given consideration by the Senate.

Although the bill is technically the same as the one presented by Bowen, numerous adjustments had to be made to it in order to make it this far. Most noticeable in the revised edition of the bill was the removal of some of the most severe penalties. In its current state, the bill won’t cause drivers to have points added to their license when cited for texting while driving – something that was present in the original bill. The current version also takes away the originally proposed assumption of negligence.

These changes do significantly soften the penalties for drivers who text and drive. Bowen has often repeated his desire for drivers who violate the bill to receive stiff punishments. The punishments endorsed by Bowen included heavy fines and even the possibility of serving time if drivers who violated the bill caused injuries to other motorists. Although most of the changes were designed to make the bill less punitive, one change did include a $50 increase to the maximum fine allowed under the bill. Originally $100, the maximum fine would now be $150.

If the bill is passed, the rest of South Carolina would join the capital, Columbia, in banning texting and driving. Columbia has had a similar ban since March of 2011. As of now, there are no restrictions on how drivers use their cell phones while driving in the rest of South Carolina.

Other legislation attempts have been brought forth but ultimately defeated. The following is a brief synopsis of both the current bill and previous bills that failed.

House Bill 4451 is the current bill that is one House vote away from reaching the Senate. It is a simple ban on text messaging while driving. Although the original version of the bill called for violators to receive two points on their license, its current incarnation has no points and doesn’t report to insurance companies. Assumption of negligence has also been removed, although the original bill called for fines of $5,000 or $10,000 as well as imprisonment if a driver using text messaging caused an injury or death. The bill does not restrict the use of voice-to-text services. It was passed on March 7, 2011.

Other legislation attempts by the House included House Bills 3115 and 3119. The two bills both sought to ban text messaging, with HB 3115 also spanning to cover electronic reading devices. HB 3115 was noticeably stiffer in its penalties. The fines called for in the bill started at $200 and ran up to $2,500, along with license points, suspensions, and potential imprisonment of up to 20 years for injuries or deaths caused by offenders. HB 3119’s penalties were softer, with fines of $25. It did provide harsher penalties for school bus drivers, with fines beginning at $250 as well as a loss of certification for a year.

HB 3160 was a proposal that would have been an outright ban on handheld electronics, with a $125 fine and two license points for offenders. HB3542 was similar but made provisions allowing the use of hands-free technology. Fines were discretionary with a $500 cap, and also called for potential jail time.

The Senate’s previous attempts have included Senate Bills 225, 59, and 1091. SB 225 shares the most similarities with the bill currently being considered by the House, as it called for increasing fines for repeat offenders and potential jail time. First-time offenders were given the option to pay only a $10 fee and take a defensive driving course. SB 1091 didn’t seek to ban text messaging. Instead, it only gave municipalities the option to require drivers to use hands-free devices.

SB 59 may have been the most unique bill. It did not look to ban electronic devices or even require the use of hands-free devices. Instead, it prohibited “driving carelessly as a result of being distracted.” Circumstances that met this criterion would have included text messaging, but also extended to the use of a mobile phone or computer, interacting with passengers, and grooming. The bill proposed a $50 fine with no points added to a driver’s license.

Despite the failures up to this point to pass a statewide bill restricting the use of cell phones, South Carolina’s lawmakers have remained confident that the state will pass something. Senator Rankin, R-Horry County, predicted that there would be a piece of legislature preventing the use of cell phones while driving statewide. Senator Larry Martin, R-Pickens, described his bill as encouraging people to use common sense, instead of seeking an outright ban on texting.

With all of the legislation that has been discarded and all of the bills that are still on the table, it seems like just a matter of time before one of the bills being proposed becomes law and South Carolina joins the ranks of states prohibiting the use of phones while driving. The ban in Columbia was seen as a step in the right direction by lawmakers and police alike, with Chief Randy Scott comparing the effects of text messaging and driving with those of a DUI. South Carolina’s largest newspaper, the State, even offered its support for such a ban. In a March 9 editorial, one author wrote that if the state doesn’t enact a ban, other city governments should follow in Columbia’s footsteps and ban text messaging on a local level.

Given all of this, it’s clear that something needs to be done. There were 17 fatalities caused by distracted drivers in 2009. With the Columbia bill almost exclusively receiving praise from others in the state, the only hurdle to banning text messaging statewide appears to be whether everyone can agree on what the penalties should be.