South Carolina on June 9, 2014, became the 49th state to enact a ban on texting and driving. While I applaud the effort as a Carolina personal injury and wrongful death lawyer who has helped hundreds of victims of automobile accidents caused by distracted drivers, I also regret that lawmakers in the Palmetto State waited so long to join nearby states like Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
The South Carolina legislation took effect immediately, making it “unlawful for a person to use a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send or read a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle on the public highways of this state.” In practice, this means that anyone who types out or opens a text or email on his or her cell phone, smartphone, tablet or laptop while behind the wheel of a car, truck, van or SUV on a state highway or interstate in South Carolina will be subject to a police stop and fine of $50 for violating a traffic ordinance.
That explanatory sentence is long, but it is important to emphasize the point that every driver risks being cited for any use of a distracting electronic device. Understanding why the South Carolina legislature enacted the law is even more important.
More than 3,300 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in the United States during 2012. Tens of thousands more people suffered injuries that left them disabled or facing sometimes years of recovery and crushing medical bills. A large majority of rear-end collisions occur because people are not paying attention to slowing and stopping traffic, and almost every crash involving a motorcycle or bicycle rider leaves the at-fault driver attempting to explain, “I never even saw … .”
Stated as simply as possible, distracted driving ruins lives, and few things are more distracting than texting while behind the wheel. Even with its low financial penalty, South Carolina’s new, long overdue, ban on texting and driving sends a strong message that people must keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road.