Beaufort texting ban for drivers starts Saturday

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Beaufort texting ban for drivers starts Saturday

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012   |  782 Words  |  

When Tawain Watts is driving, he tries not to use his cellphone unless he's stopped at a red light or a stop sign.

"I just think that most accidents happen because of (phones)," said Watts, 16.

Starting Saturday, Watts and all other drivers under 18 won't be allowed to use a phone while driving within Beaufort's city limits, and texting will be banned for all drivers.

City Council approved the law in September, but it did not go into effect for two months as officials developed an education campaign.

Citations will begin this weekend, but police Chief Matt Clancy said it will be up to individual officers whether to warn or fine people. The goal is not to give citations, but to discourage distracted driving, he said.

"Obviously, this is something new and there are going to be people who aren't aware of it," he said. "On Friday they could do it and Saturday they can't."

Drivers caught breaking the law could be face a $50 fine, which increases to $150 for repeated violations, according to the ordinance. Officers would have to witness devices being used, have reasonable suspicion, and can look at phones to gather pertinent information. Phones cannot be seized under the law.

Six other towns and cities across the state -- Clemson, Walhalla, West Union, Columbia, Camden and Sumter -- also have banned texting while driving.

Clancy compared texting while driving to wearing a seat belt. Twenty years ago, few people thought about buckling up. Today, it's second nature to most drivers, he said.

The city's awareness campaign is aimed especially at keeping young drivers from developing the "habit" of using a phone, he said.

The city is working with private businesses to underwrite the cost of keychains with an anti-texting slogan, which would be handed out at schools, youth centers and other places. Officials are also trying to get billboard space donated in or near the city to spread the word.

In the meantime, all officers have been provided copies of an information sheet to pass out to residents, and information is being posted on the department's Facebook page. The totaled car that police use as a warning to not drink and drive is being decorated with anti-texting warnings and will be placed around the city.

"It's a good reminder to people that something can happen real quick," Clancy said. "...even in that short amount of time that you take your eyes off the road and disengage from driving, that's all it takes."

The city does not have statistics on phone usage while driving, but the National Safety Council estimated that about 21 percent of crashes in 2010 involved drivers talking on the phone, and another 3 percent involved texting.

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project found 40 percent of teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.

Drivers are four times as likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injuries if they're using a phone or other handheld device, the study found.

Brandy Bussing, 16, said she thinks the ban is a good idea because it will encourage safer driving.

Bussing, a Beaufort High School student, has dealt with two fatal accidents resulting in three student deaths in the past year. In October, Richard Allen Rottet, 17, was killed after he crossed the dividing line on S.C. 170, and in April, Chelsie Nicole Teddy Pitruzzella, 18, and Kayleeana Hudson-Banks, 15, died when Pitruzzella's sedan veered off Seaside Road on St. Helena Island.

Speed was cited as a factor in the April crash and the investigation is pending on the October crash.

Bussing said she tries not to use her phone unless stopped.

"I took an Alive at 25 class and that scared me," she said.

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