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‘Hands-free’ bill making way through house

South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would up the price on texting and driving in the state.

If approved and signed into law, the bill would make it illegal for motorists to use hand-held communication devices while driving.

“We are pleased to see movement with the important proposed legislation and commend lawmakers for addressing the epidemic of distracted driving,” AAA Carolinas spokesperson Tiffany Wright said in a news release. “This bill is about saving lives and making our South Carolina roads safer for everyone.

The proposed law would significantly stiffen the penalties for texting and driving that is already on the books in the state. Current fines are $25, but could increase to $200 or more if the law is passed.

But law enforcement officials and proponents of the law say the price of not doing something is much more dear.

In 2018, there were 19,381 collisions resulting in 65 fatalities and 7,939 injuries that were attributed to distracted driving, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Laurens County was among the state leaders in traffic fatalities with 35 traffic-related deaths in 2018, according to statistics from the Laurens County Coroner’s Office. Local law enforcement officials have said distracted driving is now the leading cause of traffic accidents in Laurens County and beyond.

“The number of crashes due to distracted driving is staggering, but we believe the statistics are actually higher,” Wright said. “Law enforcement seldom codes a crash proven to be a direct result from distraction because it is too difficult to prove, and motorists aren’t going to readily admit they were driving distracted behind the wheel.”

The hands-free bill would prohibit drivers from handling their phone and other electronic devices while driving. Law enforcement officers would be allowed to stop drivers for holding a phone and no longer require and accompanying charge such as speeding or violation of seatbelt laws.

Georgia has already passed a hands-free law, which went into effect July 1, 2018. According to AAA, 13 of 15 other states with similar laws saw at least a 16-percent decrease in traffic fatalities since the laws went into effect.

The South Carolina bill, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Bill Taylor of Aiken, is to be considered by the House Education and Public Works Committee this week.


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