South Carolina legislators this week advanced bills limiting how drivers use their cell phones behind the wheel.
The bill heading to the House floor would ban both text messaging and talking on a hand-held phone, while a separate measure sent to the Senate floor would bar only texting and e-mailing.
With surprisingly little debate, the House Education Committee approved a bill banning both practices, after an effort to separate the issues and ban only texting failed. The measure would exempt handsfree talking systems.
Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Aiken, said holding a cell phone to talk while driving isn’t nearly as distracting as sending a text message. He also complained the ban could hurt businesses, particularly the owners of small construction crews, who largely work out of their vehicles and depend on their cell phones.
Others questioned how it would be enforced.
“How in the world are we going to police this?” asked Rep. Michael Anthony, D-Union, who complained it smacked of “big daddy government.”
The House version would fine offenders up to $100 and add two points on their license. School bus drivers who use a cell or text would face harsher penalties and lose their school bus certification.
Rep. Robert Brown, D-Hollywood, unsuccessfully argued that the penalty for hand-held cell phone use should be less since it’s not as dangerous.
The bill approved 15-5 by the Senate Judiciary Committee would fine drivers caught texting or e-mailing up to $25 and put one point on their license.
“The question is, how are they going to prove it?” asked Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville. “I just think it’s totally problematic.”
Sen. Jake Knotts, a retired law enforcement officer, said legislators just needed to have faith and let law enforcement do their jobs. The West Columbia Republican tried unsuccessfully in his subcommittee last week to also ban hand-held cell phone use.
Many legislators think barring chatting with a phone at one ear goes too far. They question how that’s worse than other things that distract drivers, such as eating, fiddling with the radio or putting on makeup.