(This report updated June 10 with governor’s signature.)
Architects of the final plan said they preferred “a carrot” to “a stick” and felt most motorists would comply. The plan cleared the legislature June 4.
The House and Senate turned to a conference committee to resolve their differences over a texting law. The House sought a ban affecting all drivers, while the Senate only wanted to restrict texting by novice drivers. In the end, the House prevailed and both houses recorded near-unanimous votes in favor of the plan.
The new law pre-empts the state’s many local distracted driving regulations.
The new South Carolina texting law would be primary, meaning police are empowered to stop and cite offenders. A secondary enforcement option was never in the mix for 2014. Motorists will not see points vs. their licenses for infractions, meaning insurance rates would not increase for violators.
A six-month warning period is required under the measure.
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.
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.” The House bill seeking a texting ban for all drivers came from state Rep. Don Bowen, sponsor of several distracted driving bills in past years.
Sheheen, currently running for governor vs. the Republican incumbent, Nikki Haley, urged 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.
The senator said the statewide law would “clear up confusing and irregular local regulations.”
Local laws seeking to combat distracted driving in South Carolina existed in Charleston, Camden, Columbia, Walhalla, Clemson, Sumter, Mount Pleasant, Hilton Head Island, Irmo, Beaufort, Pendleton, Bluffton, Port Royal Greenville, Fountain Inn and West Union.
The law apparently would void any handheld cell phone restrictions at the local level. It pre-empts all laws “regarding persons using wireless electronic communication devices while operating motor vehicles.”
A provision in the Senate bill that would have prohibited handheld cell phone use by drivers in school zones was removed during the legislative process.
South Carolina is one of the handful of states without a texting ban affecting all drivers.