Last updated: December 16, 2014
Cell phone, texting news: South Carolina finally has a ban on texting and driving. The new law applies to all drivers and comes with a $25 fine for first-time violators. Police would be able to stop and cite offenders after a six-month warning period. The bill was signed by the governor June 9, after the long-debated measure just made the legislative session’s deadline.
House and Senate approval came June 4, a day after a conference committee charged with resolving South Carolina’s legislative battle over a texting and driving law decided in favor of the broader House version of the 2014 legislation. The Senate voted in favor 42-2 and the House followed with a 94-2 vote.
The new law replaces South Carolina’s crazy quilt of local laws restricting distracted driving.
Acting in the final days of the legislative session, the conference committee endorsed a texting plan that affects all drivers, instead of just the novice drivers that would have been affected under the Senate’s version of the distracted driving law. The General Assembly followed a day later.
The law would not affect use of cell phones for making calls. Drivers would be able to use the GPS functions of their hand-held devices. Police would not be allowed to “seize, search, view, or require the forfeiture” of a wireless electronic communication device involved in a violation.
Read more about South Carolina’s texting & driving act.
Current distracted driving prohibitions:
- No statewide limits on cell phone use or text messaging.
- Local distracted driving bans in Charleston, Camden, Columbia, Walhalla, Clemson, Sumter, Mount Pleasant, Hilton Head Island, Irmo, Beaufort, Pendleton, Bluffton, Port Royal Greenville, Fountain Inn and West Union.
Distracted driving legislation (new or active in 2014; more bills below)
Senate Bill 459: Would outlaw use of wireless communications devices by drivers
with novice or restricted driver’s licenses (deletion by House). Would also ban text messaging and cell phone use in school zones when caution lights are on. Fine $25 for first violation, no more than $50 for multiple (House). $100 then $200 and then $300 (Senate). (Penalty can be waived after driver’s education program.) Approved by a Judiciary Committee subcommittee Feb. 26, 2014. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on March 6. Approved by the full Senate in a 38-2 vote of April 9. Amended and approved by the House education committee May 14. Amended version approved by the full House in a 99-6 vote of May 20. House changes rejected by the Senate on May 28. Conference report adopted June 4. Approved by the Senate in a 42-2 vote of June 4. Approved by the House in a 94-2 vote of June 4. Signed by the governor June 9. (Sheheen)
House Bill 4386: Would bar all drivers from text messaging. Fine: $25 but no court costs. Voice-activated/hands-free texting OK. Includes 180-day warning period. Approved by the full House in an 97-16 vote of April 9 and an 89-12 vote of April 10. To the Senate. (Bowen)
S 416: Would prohibit texting & driving in South Carolina. Fine: $25 (first offense) then $50. No court costs. Exempts GPS apps. Requires police to have “clear and unobstructed view” of violation. Requires enforcement agencies to keep racial profiling data. Approved by a Judiciary Committee subcommittee Feb. 20, 2014. aka S 416a (Alexander)
SB 880: Would prohibit use of cell phones and texting devices by drivers with a beginner’s permit or a restricted license. Would prohibit use of wireless communications devices by drivers passing through school zones (when lights are flashing) or highway construction zones. Fine up to $500 or 30 days in jail. See sponsor’s S 459, filed in 2013, below. (Sheheen)
Distracted driving notes (2014):
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who authored the original Senate bill that was transformed into the final distracted driving legislation, said the law “will save more lives than any other action by state government in years.” He called it major step forward for South Carolina,” a state that had long resisted distracted driving protections.
Sheheen, currently running for governor vs. the Republican incumbent, Nikki Haley, encouraged her to sign the legislation. Sheheen was one of the senators on the conference committee. He had endorsed the House change to his bill that included all drivers in the texting ban.
Fountain Inn’s ban on texting & driving went into effect June 1. The City Council voted unanimously to adopt the ban in mid-April, but it rejected a handheld cell phone provision.
Greenville’s ban on driving while using handheld wireless devices went into effect April 1. Police promptly issued 71 warnings and two citations. Fines $100 (first offense), then $200/$300. Several council members sought to address the “epidemic” of texting. “We’re at that point where we do need to do something,” the mayor said. The City Council gave the final OK on Feb. 10.
Driving while text messaging now is illegal throughout Beaufort County. The distracted driving sweep was completed Jan. 8 as Port Royal joined the county and other area communities banning texting while behind. Police have been writing few tickets, however. The Port Royal Town Council vote was unanimous. Fines: $100 to $300.
Pendleton approved a ban on texting & driving Feb. 3. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200 and then $300. The Pendleton texting ban begins June 1.
Greer’s City Council approved a ban on texting & driving on the ordinance’s first reading April 8.
Charleston’s City Council has given final approval to an ordinance banning texting while driving. The fine for texting in Charleston is $100 plus court costs. Enforcement is primary, meaning police can stop and cite offenders for that reason alone. A 60-day education and warning period ended in mid-December. Warning signs were still scarce as of early February, and no tickets were written.
In Beaufort County, few texting & driving tickets have been issued despite local laws covering the region. The Beaufort Police Department wrote almost a dozen tickets, but mostly issued warnings, the Island Packet reported April 6. The Sheriff’s Office handed out 30 warnings since the county ban took effect in September. “The new laws have been a huge deterrent,” a sheriff’s spokesman said.
Summerville city councilmen put off a proposed texting & driving ordinance in early March, in hopes of seeing a statewide law in 2014.
Greenville’s ban on handheld wireless device use while driving went into effect April 1. Fines: $100. More than 30 signs went up advising motorists of the change. The ordinance includes an unusual provision: Judges would have the authority to order cell phones seized and destroyed, the Greenville News reported after the first council vote Jan. 27.
State Sen. Shane Massey heads the subcommittee in which the texting bill SB 416 has been stalled for almost a year. He told the Municipal Association of South Carolina on Feb. 5: “My thinking is that a ban on texting while driving should be a no-brainer. I think the question is whether you go beyond that (to a handheld device ban).” State Sen. Joel Lourie told the group: “The question is whether we have the fortitude to get (a texting ban) done.”
No distracted driving tickets have been written in Charleston or Mt. Pleasant in the months after their ordinances went into effect, the Charleston City Paper reported in early February. A Charleston City Council member blamed the lack of enforcement on the lack of warning signs, which would be going up soon.
The city of Beaufort has written 35 warnings and nine tickets since its distracted driving law went into effect in November 2012, police told the Gazette. The entire county followed its lead on texting, but not teen cell phone use, as of January 2014.
2013 distracted driving notes:
There are at least a dozen distracted driving bills up for consideration in the South Carolina Legislature, but none cleared the House or Senate before the 2013 session ended. The bills carried over to 2014, however.
Charleston’s new law goes beyond texting but stops short of affecting cell phone calls: Specifically, it outlaws the use of handheld communications devices for functions other than phone calls. That includes music selection and GPS address entry. Longtime Charleston Mayor Joe Riley pushed for the ordinance, citing the “addictive” nature of wireless communications devices. One councilman feared the proposed ordinance was “unenforceable” because police would have to determine if a driver was typing on cell phone was dialing a number or texting. Charleston’s final vote came Oct. 9.
Bluffton has banned texting while driving in city limits. Fines: $100, then $200, then $300. The final vote came Nov. 12 and the law goes into effect immediately. Beaufort County already has a ban in place, as well as neighbors Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Hardeeville. “Bluffton is particularly key to the local effort (in the county),” the Island Packet noted, due to the amount of traffic moving in and out of the city’s borders.
Mount Pleasant has joined the growing list of South Carolina municipalities that ban text messaging while driving. The measure passed its second City Council vote Sept. 10 with a 6-3 vote. The ban is expected to go into effect in mid-November, after warning signs go up. Fines for texting & driving: $50 but up to $200 if a wreck results. The mayor says Mount Pleasant had to act because the state Legislature didn’t. Another plan to ban handheld cell phone use while driving was shot down almost unanimously.
Read more about local texting bans in South Carolina.
Four distracted driving measures filed for 2013-2014 envisioned significant penalties for causing serious injury or deaths while text messaging. Fines from $2,500 up to $10,000 and 20 years in prison under the plans from Rep. Don Bowen and Rep. Wendell Gilliard.
Another bill sought to make texting & driving a reckless driving offense, with first-offense fines up to $350. And another called for reckless homicide charges if a driver causes a fatality while using a cell phone. The distracted driving bills are up for consideration again in 2014.
Hardeeville began the process of enacting a local ban on texting & driving in late September. An area resident proposed the new law at a City Council meeting in August. Police blame 34 wrecks so far in 2013 on distracted driving. Proposed fines: $100 (first offense), then $150 (second) and $200 (subsequent).
Hilton Head Island has banned texting while driving. The City Council adopted the plan July 2. Fines are $100 (first offense), then $200, then $300. The ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, does not affect phone calls made by drivers. A warning period will precede the ticket writing, officials say.
Charleston considered and rejected a resolution calling on the Legislature to ban text messaging while driving in South Carolina. Months later, the City Council was nearing a local texting ordinance, with the mayor pushing for enactment.
The Rock Hill Herald editorialized May 15: “The most dangerous thing teen drivers — or any drivers, for that matter — can do is text while behind the wheel. That begs the question: Why can’t South Carolina lawmakers pass a law that outlaws texting while driving? … This is not a matter of personal choice. Texting and driving endangers everyone on the road.” The Herald singled out the teen driver measure S 459 from state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, noting “lawmakers have yet to pass even that basic bill.”
The Post and Courier editorialized on March 26: “It’s time for the Legislature to take action. … A strong argument can be made for banning the use of any handheld communication device, but texting is the most serious distraction. Banning it would go a long way toward making our roads safer and decreasing the number of distracted driving collisions.”
Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Kershaw, says he was inspired to file Senate Bill 459 after a police officer told him he’d almost been hit by a parent yakking on a cell phone in a school zone. His bill bans use of cell phones in school zones and bans their use by novice drivers: “The goal is to focus on particularly risky situations involving distracted driving. It’s like a laser beam focus,” he told the Aiken Standard in mid-April.
Distracted driving legislation (2013-2014):
House Bill 3317: Would prohibit use of handheld wireless communications devices while driving. Fine up to $500 and possible 30 days in jail. (Hart)
H 3118: Would bar drivers from text messaging. Penalties: First offense, $250 or 30 days in jail, plus one-month license suspension. Second offense, $1,000 or 60 days in jail plus 2 points and two-month license suspension. Subsequent offenses: $2,500 or 180 days in jail, six-month license suspension plus 4 points. Causing serious injury while texting would be a felony with up to 10 years in prison. Causing a death while texting would be a felony with a minimum five-year prison sentence up to 20 years. (Gilliard)
H 3121: Would prohibit drivers from text messaging. Penalties: $100 fine plus surcharges, 2 points. If serious injury results, fine of not less than $2,500 to $5,000 and mandatory imprisonment for 30 days to five years. If death results, $5,000 to $10,000, imprisonment for one to 10 years. Approved by the Committee on Education and Public Works on Jan. 31. (Bowen)
H 3630: Would create offense of “careless driving,” which includes texting. Fine: UP to $500. Two points. Also adds driving while distracted and specifically texting as possible reckless driving offenses. Fines: $25 to $200 or 30-day imprisonment. Three-month license suspension after second offense. (Felder)
H 3858: Would ban texting while driving. Penalties: $100 fine plus surcharges, 2 points. Would pre-empt local texting ordinances. (Bowen)
H 3921: Would make text messaging while driving a reckless driving offense. Fine: $100 to $350. If wireless device’s data usage record is used in court, an additional $500 fine. Exempts GPS apps and citizen’s band radios. Allows for texting at red lights. (Rivers)
Senate Bill 107: Seeks to prohibit search of cell phones and similar wireless devices without a warrant. (Bright)
S 186: Would make reckless homicide charges possible if a driver kills someone while using a cell phone. (Rankin)
2012 distracted driving notes:
The state’s full House overwhelmingly approved a watered-down version of Rep. Don Bowen’s 2012 bill that would ban text messaging while driving in South Carolina. The measure then cleared the Senate’s Judiciary Committee and was given a second reading June 6, but did not advance after that.
“We’ve got some significant opposition” to the texting bill, a senator who supports the plan said in late March.
Bowen’s plan was heavily amended to remove its most severe penalties, such as points and an assumption of negligence, although the maximum fine was raised by $50 to $150. Bowen, R-Anderson, has pushed for heavy fines and possible imprisonment for drivers who cause injuries and/or deaths while texting.
The Senate’s unwillingness to sign off on the House’s texting bill brought this editorial response from the Press and Courier: “It is a pity that motorists and pedestrians across South Carolina will have to spend another year without the protection that a ban on texting while driving could provide them.” The Charleston paper called on members of the Senate to “recognize their core responsibility to provide for public safety … and get it done.”
Walhalla has adopted a ban on texting and handheld cell phone use by drivers, joining the cities of Columbia and West Union in prohibiting the practice. The City Council approved the ordinance March 20. Fine: $100 plus court costs. Primary enforcement, and police are able to view drivers’ cell phones to determine if a violation occurred.
2012 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 4451: Would outlaw text messaging while driving. Fines up to $150 (original bill was $100) with no points or insurance reporting (original bill assessed 2 points against driver’s license). No negligence assumed nor extra penalties for texting and causing an accident. (Original bill provided for for felonies: If serious injury occurs as a result of texting, fines up to $5,000 plus possible imprisonment. If death occurs, up to $10,000 plus imprisonment.) Exempts voice-operated texting. Police cannot search electronic devices for evidence. No tickets to be issued at police checkpoints unless another violation occurs. Approved by the Education and Public Works subcommittee on Feb. 9. Heavily amended and approved by the House in a second-reading vote of 93-15 on March 7. Approved by the House on March 8 and sent to the Senate. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Latest legislative action: Second reading in Senate on June 6. Session ended without further Senate action. (Bowen)
- Read the March 7 amended version of HB 4451 (original text linked above).
2011-2012 distracted driving legislation:
HB 3115: Seeks to outlaw text messaging and use of electronic reading devices by drivers. Fines from $200 to $2,500 with the possibility of imprisonment. Graduated penalties also include points and license suspensions. Causing injury or death could bring prison terms of up to 20 years. (Gilliard)
HB 3119: Would prohibit text messaging while driving — reading, writing, sending. Fines of $25. For school bus drivers, first offense fine $250 plus loss of bus-driver certification for a year. For subsequent violations (or cases of severe injury or death), $500 plus permanent loss of certification. (McEachern)
HB 3160: Would outlaw use of handheld electronics devices while driving. Fine of $125 plus two points against license. (Sellers)
HB 3542: Seeks to ban use of handheld electronic communications devices while driving, including cell phones. Hands free OK. Fines up to $500 with possible jail time. (Hart)
Senate Bill 225: Would outlaw text messaging while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion. Penalties (as amended on March 24): $20 fine and a $25 “trauma” surcharge. Second offense, $25 plus $25 and two points against driver’s license. For a third offense, $75 plus $25 and four points against license. Amendment by Judiciary Committee allows first-time violators to take a driver’s education course and then pay only a $10 fee. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on March 3. Latest legislative action: Amended by Senate on March 24 to change penalties. (Knotts)
SB 59: Would prohibit driving carelessly as a result of being distracted. Does not ban text messaging or cell phone use. Behaviors possibly leading to “driving carelessly” include grooming, interacting with passengers or pets, use of computer, using a mobile phone or communications device. $50 fine, no points. Referred to a Judiciary subcommittee on March 7. (L. Martin)
SB 1091: Would allow municipalities to require hands-free devices for those using wireless communications devices while driving. (Jackson)
2011 distracted driving notes:
The state capital city of Columbia gave final approval to a ban on texting while driving on March 29, 2011. Fine: $100 (about $237 out of pocket).
The original Senate Bill 225 called for points against the driver’s license on all convictions. As amended March 24, the bill uses a tiered penalty scheme, with no points for the first violation, two for the second violation (within five years) and four for the third and subsequent offenses.
Sen. Rankin, R-Horry County, predicts some kind of handheld cell phone law in 2011: “Perhaps not exactly the way I want it, but there’ll be some statewide statement precluding the unfettered use of a cell phone.” His failed SB 954 of 2009-2010 would have required hands-free attachments for drivers wanting to use their cell phones. Teens drivers would have been prohibited from using any wireless telecommunication device.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, says that while his SB 19 wouldn’t outlaw specific behaviors, “it would encourage folks to not engage in activity such as texting (or) talking on a cell phone in a distracted manner.” Or kissing.
The city of Columbia has become the biggest city in South Carolina to adopt its own texting ban. The ban was approved by the City Council in a first reading March 3 and again on March 29. Fine: $100 (up to $237 with fees). Police are onboard: “The distractions are so apparent, almost to the event of being a DUI,” Chief Randy Scott said in late March. When people are texting, “it’s very noticeable.”
South Carolina’s largest newspaper, the State, editorialized on March 9: “Should the Legislature fail to act, it only makes sense for other local governments to join Columbia and others in banning texting while driving. … There’s no reasonable or acceptable excuse for lawmakers to allow people to continue to send and read texts while they’re driving.”
Distracted drivers caused 17 deaths in South Carolina during 2009, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Clemson Mayor Larry Abernathy says he’s happy the city banned text messaging in 2010. “If we waited for the General Assembly to make things safer for the citizens of Clemson, we’d be waiting a long, long time,” Abernathy told the State web site. Camden’s mayor also sang the praises of the texting ban enacted there last year.
2009-2010 legislation (all dead):
South Carolina House Bill 4282: Would prohibit texting and use of hand-held phones on South Carolina roads and highways. Fine of $25, no points. The House approved the bill (91-18 vote, March 11) and sent it to the Senate, where it died in committee. (D.C. Smith)
South Carolina Senate Bill 642: Would prohibit texting and use of hand-held phones while driving. For drivers under the age of 18, would outlaw use of cell phones or other wireless communications devices. Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 16. “Debate was interrupted by adjournment” (T. Alexander)
SB 954: Would ban drivers over the age of 18 from using cellular phones or wireless devices without a hands-free device. Drivers under 18 would be prohibited from using cellular phones or wireless devices entirely. Calls for secondary enforcement. Died in the Senate Transportation Committee. (Rankin)
HB 4259: Would outlaw text messaging while driving on South Carolina’s roads. Provides for fines from $250-$2,500, imprisonment from 30 days to 20 years (in case of death) and 2-4 points against the driver’s license. Never considered. (J.E. Smith)
HB 4206: Provides for introduction of cell phones as evidence in civil cases resulting from accidents that were allegedly caused by drivers who were cell phoning or text messaging. Never considered. (G.R. Smith)
SB 970: Would prohibit sending or reading of text messages while driving. Calls for secondary enforcement, meaning officers would need another reason to stop violators. Fines of $25. Never considered. (Bryant)
HB 4189: Would outlaw text messaging while driving. Also bans reading of print materials. Provides fines of up to $10,000 (for third violations), plus possible prison terms and license suspensions. For causing a death while text messaging, a prison term of up to 25 years is proposed. Law officers may seize and review drivers’ cell phones for evidence of texting. Never considered. (Bowen)
HB 4190: Would ban use of handheld communications devices while operating a motor vehicle on South Carolina roads. Calls for fines of $125 and assessment of 2 points against the driving record. Never considered. (Sellers)
SB 991: Would ban text messaging by all drivers. Never considered. (Rose)
2010 legislation notes:
HB 4282, which sailed through the House, was amended to lower its fine to $25. The original measure called for $100 fines and 2 points on violators’ drivers licenses.
Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson, is the sponsor of South Carolina House Bill 4189, which could be the strictest text messaging legislation seen to date. The provision that allows law officers to seize cell phones and examine them on the spot is sure to attract civil liberties resistance. Prison terms for distracted driving are rarely included in similar legislation, but each instance of texting while driving brings the possibility of incarceration under Bowen’s text messaging proposals.
Clemson’s ban on text messaging and driving went into effect June 1. Clemson’s City Council voted unanimously for the law on Feb. 15 after initial approval on Feb. 1. Fine is $100 plus court costs. Clemson’s mayor originally wanted a ban on hands-free cell phone use as well as text messaging. This was the first city in South Carolina to ban texting while behind the wheel.
Camden’s ban on texting while driving is now in effect, with tickets costing as much as $250. The ordinance was approved March 23.
Charleston’s mayor pushed for an ordinance that would ban texting in city limits.
Mount Pleasant decided to retreat on a plan for a ban on texting and driving, with the Town Council returning the measure to the judicial committee on April 13. The move came after a public hearing in which three of five residents opposed the ban.
South Carolina’s Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety have banned text messaging while on the job. The move affects about 6,500 staffers.
2008-2009 legislation (expired or defeated)
HB 4501 and SB 1133 (identical): Prohibits drivers from using cell phones unless hands-free devices are employed. Includes PDAs, pagers and “another wireless communication device.”
SB 402: Would allow municipalities to limit drivers’ cell phone use to hands-free operation.
Legislation notes (2008-2009):
The state House on April 30, 2008, sent back to committee a bill by Rep. Lanny Littlejohn, R-Spartanburg, that would have prohibited teens with restricted licenses from using cell phones or texting while driving.
“The House just isn’t ready for this kind of legislation,” Littlejohn told the Island Packet. “I think, subconsciously, they’re afraid that the bill would eventually lead to cell phones being banned outright for all drivers.”
The debate touched on hand held phones vs. hands-free devices: “It’s illegal to put a phone up to their ear, but it’s perfectly legal for them to go down the road with a Bluetooth in their ear?” asked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land.
In September ’08, the Beaufort City Council was in the process of adopting a ban on use of cell phones by drivers unless they use a handheld device. The council acted because of a lack of statewide action. The ordinance would be enforced if the driver has been in an accident or has been pulled over for another offense.