Studies Indicate Texting While Driving is Worse Than Driving Under the Influence

South Carolina legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban text messaging while driving in S.C.  Columbia gave final approval to a ban on texting while driving on March 29, 2011.  Note that there are currently no limits on cell phone usage or text messaging while driving in South Carolina.

The relevant distracted driving provisions are as follows:

Senate Bill 225 proposes to outlaw text messaging while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion.  Proposed penalties include a $20 fine and a $25 “trauma” surcharge for a 1st offense.  A 2nd offense would result in a $25 fine plus a $25 “trauma” surcharge and two (2) points against driver’s license.  A 3rd offense would result in a $75 fine plus a $25 “trauma” surcharge and four (4) points against license.  Note that an amendment by the Judiciary Committee may allow 1st-time violators to enroll in and complete a driver’s education course which would reduce the fine to $10.

Senate Bill 59 would prohibit driving carelessly as a result of being distracted.  This Bill does not expressly ban text messaging or cell phone use.  That said, behaviors leading to “driving carelessly” include personal grooming, interacting with passengers or pets,  computer usage, using a mobile phone or other communications device.  Violation of the above would result in a $50 fine with no points.

House Bill 3115 seeks to outlaw text messaging and use of electronic reading devices by drivers.  Fines for any violation may range from $200 to $2,500 with the possibility of imprisonment.  Graduated penalties include points and license suspensions.  Violations resulting in injury or death could bring prison terms of up to 20 years.

House Bill 3119 would prohibit text messaging while driving.  This includes reading, writing and sending of the same.  The fine for any violation is $25.

House Bill 3160 proposes to outlaw the use of handheld electronics devices while driving. Violations result in a fine of $125 plus two points against the driver’s license.

Columbia, SC is the largest and most notable city in South Carolina to adopt a texting ban. Any violation results in a fine of $100 (up to $237 with fees).  Local police fully support and enforce the ban.  Police Chief Randy Scott stated “the distractions are so apparent, almost to the event of being a DUI.” Chief Scott went on to state that when people are texting, “it’s very noticeable.”  Note that 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. Mayor Abernathy stated, “[i]f we waited for the General Assembly to make things safer for the citizens of Clemson, we’d be waiting a long, long time.”

Clemson’s ban on text messaging while driving went into effect June 1.  The fine is $100 plus court costs.  Clemson’s mayor originally wanted a ban on hands-free cell phone use as well as text messaging.  Clemson was the first city in South Carolina to ban texting while behind the wheel.

In addition to the action taken in Columbia and Clemson, Camden has banned texting while driving with tickets costing as much as $250.  Additionally, Charleston Mayor, Joe Riley, has pushed for an ordinance that would ban texting in city limits and South Carolina’s Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety have banned texting while on the job.  This decision affects approximately 6,500 employees.

A study in Britian found that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving under the influence of marijuana. The Royal Automobile Club Foundation, part of the British version of AAA, commissioned a study comparing the driving skills of drivers who were sending or receiving text messages while drunk or high. Reaction times for the texters in the study dropped by 35%, while legally drunk drivers saw a 12% drop and drugged drivers saw a 21% drop. Additionally, texters were a staggering 91% more likely to drift out of their lanes, as compared to 35% for marijuana users.

Research done in the United States demonstrates texting and driving is dangerous, but no formal study has compared texting and driving to drunk driving. However, Car and Driver magazine conducted and informal study on a closed course wherein the magazine measured reaction times at 35 and 70 mph for reporters who were sober, then texting, then above the 0.08 legal limit.  The conclusions indicated that sending or receiving text messages increased reaction times significantly more than drinking.  In fact, the older reporter’s reaction time of 0.57 seconds nearly tripled to 1.44 seconds when he was reading text messages and 1.36 seconds when sending them.  At 35 mph, that meant traveling an extra 45 and 41 feet before the vehicle was stopped.  By comparison, drinking gave him a reaction time of 0.64 seconds and seven feet of extra travel.

If you are charged with operating under the influence or a related crime call Miller|Conway for a free consultation at 843.764.3334 and review the firm’s DUI practice at http://millerconwaylaw.com/criminal-defense/