The South Carolina Senate passed a bill Wednesday that aims to ban drivers across the state from holding their phone — whether it be to answer a text or put on a new playlist — while driving their car. By a 37-3 Senate vote, the legislation heads to the House, where similar efforts have failed in the past. The move comes after the state recorded one of the most dangerous years for drivers in the last 15 years. In 2021, 1,118 people died in auto accidents on South Carolina’s highways. The bill, S. 248, is a lighter version of Georgia’s hands-free driving law. Drivers, under the legislation, would be prohibited from writing, sending or reading any texts or emails, changing to the next podcast or song, watching videos or using more than one button to answer a call. Georgia’s law, passed in 2018, prohibits drivers from touching their phones with any part of their body. “If Georgia can do this, South Carolina can do it too,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said last week. The bill would make holding a phone or other mobile device while driving a distracted driving offense, punishable by a fine of $100. If a driver is caught again within three years, they could be fined $200 and two points would be recorded on their license. The driver’s license could be suspended for three or more months if 12 points are recorded against the license. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have passed some sort of restriction on using cellphones while driving. There are some exceptions to the Senate’s legislation. Drivers would be allowed to touch their phone to begin or end calls or to turn it on or off. They also could use a GPS app and voice-to-text functions, earpieces, smart watches and a car’s built-in hands-free media system. Pulling to the side of the road and parking to use a cellphone would be allowed if the legislation became law. Drivers who report traffic accidents, fires, medical emergencies or crimes would be allowed to use their phones while driving. Law enforcement, first responders and utility services providers who are using their phones for work are exceptions in the legislation. Several state agencies and groups, including the Department of Transportation, support the measure. “As Secretary (Christy) Hall said, distracted driving is an epidemic in South Carolina, and she said this bill is a tool that would be used in our toolbox to address the distracted driving problem,” Young said last week. During the debate, some senators questioned whether the bill was necessary. Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, for instance, asked whether the bill would do anything to curb distracted driving, the bill’s stated purpose. And Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, asked whether the guidelines set under the bill were clear enough for all South Carolina residents to understand, including whether drivers would know whether they could touch their phone while in the car’s cup holder. “Can we really tell our citizens what happens once it passes?” Malloy said.
This story was originally published February 23, 2022 4:08 PM.
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