Proposal forthcoming to ban texting while driving

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Proposal forthcoming to ban texting while driving

By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
Published Monday, July 23, 2012   |  692 Words  |  

George O'Kelley doesn't text.

And he doesn't want anyone else to, either -- at least not when they're driving.

The Beaufort City councilman is proposing a ban on texting while driving within city limits, and a cellphone ban for all drivers younger than 18 years old.

"I don't want to take away their phones," he said. "I want to limit the use of such. I understand that people, business people, have to talk on the phone and sometimes they have to do it while they are driving. I understand that and I'm not going that far.

"But I think that it's wrong for young people to do it because they drive faster, and more (recklessly,) , and get more tickets, so let's take away one thing that could possibly hurt them and others," O'Kelley said.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's fact page reports drivers are 23 times more likely to crash if they are text messaging while behind the wheel. A 2011 phone survey by the NHTSA found 11.5 percent of drivers ages 18 to 20 were texting during the most recent crash in which they were involved.

The proposal has been sent to council members but has not been formally introduced. In 2008, O'Kelley, then the city's acting mayor, proposed a similar ban, but City Council didn't pass it.

His most recent push came after a proposed statewide ban was not approved by the S.C. Senate before the General Assembly adjourned last month. O'Kelley's proposal is based on that version. It passed in the House of Representatives and would have made it illegal for drivers under 18 to talk on their cellphones or text while driving, and criminalized cellphone use for all drivers in construction and school zones.

City manager Scott Dadson said his staff is collecting more information about texting while driving. The Beaufort Police Department could not immediately provide statistics measuring the number of accidents and incidents involving cellphone use.

Dadson said that once the measure is formally proposed, greater emphasis probably will be placed on tracking information on the issue.

Police Chief Matt Clancy deferred questions to Dadson, who said it is too early in the proposal process to comment on enforcement of such a ban.

O'Kelley's ban would prohibit the use of cellphones, computers and other hand-held electronic communication devices for drivers younger than 18. Older drivers could not text or use a computer while driving.

The ban wouldn't apply to GPS and similar devices or to on-duty police, firefighters and other emergency workers. Beaufort police cruisers are equipped with computers. Drivers of all ages are allowed to report emergencies or call 911.

O'Kelley's proposal would make a violation a misdemeanor, but he said the city attorney has suggested citation instead, which would not go on a driving record.

Under the proposal, the first offense would cost a driver $50, the second offense would be $100 and subsequent offenses would be $150.

A police officer would have to clearly see a driver texting or typing before stopping him or her, according to the proposal.

Beaufort would not be the first city in South Carolina to pass such a ban. Clemson, Walhalla, West Union, Columbia, Camden and Sumter have similar laws.

City Council would have to vote twice in favor of the proposal before it could go into effect. The first vote could come as early as next week.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

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VIDEO: Residents react to texting-while-driving proposal

Beaufort mayor: Driving while on cell phone dangerous, Sept. 30, 2008