Distracted Driving Laws in South Carolina
Distracted driving statistics in South Carolina are grim. By some estimates, the state places third in rankings of the worst drivers in the nation. Only six other states have higher levels of speeding and careless driving, and South Carolina experiences more fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled than any other state.
These and other sobering distracted driving facts may be related to the state’s comparatively sparse driving laws about distracted drivers.
Although texting while driving has been illegal in the state since December of 2014, South Carolina currently does not have any other restrictions in place on cell phone use while driving.
Moreover, since the law was passed, numerous complaints have been lodged by legislators, law enforcement and others that the existing driving laws about texting and mobile phone usage are largely unenforceable. In an effort to reduce accidents, South Carolina legislators recently introduced a bill proposing significant expansions to the state’s laws against distracted driving, which they hope will help curb the problem.
What is distracted driving in South Carolina?
Driving distractions can take a multitude of forms. The South Carolina Department of Insurance defines distracted driving as operating a motor vehicle while engaged in any activity that takes some or all of a driver’s attention away from driving.
While published facts about distracted driving tend to focus on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, many other types of unsafe distractions while behind the wheel may affect drivers as well. Commonly cited examples include activities such as eating, personal grooming (e.g. shaving or applying makeup) and interacting with their vehicles’ passengers.
This diversity of causes can make distracted driving accidents particularly difficult to prevent through legislation.
Distracted Driving Laws in South Carolina for Handheld Devices
At the moment, South Carolina has only the “no texting and driving” rule and does not laws pertaining to other distracted practices while operating a vehicle.
However, law enforcement concerns about the difficulty of enforcing the state’s existing laws as well as alarm over the high injury and mortality rates associated with the ongoing rise of other forms of cell phone distraction among motorists have begun to prompt change.
To help stop distracted driving, South Carolina legislators proposed new measures in April of 2018. If passed, then the proposed laws will ban motorists from talking on the phone while driving unless they use approved hands-free devices. Any driver caught holding or manipulating a phone while driving, regardless of the purpose would be subject to a ticket, heavy fines and other consequences.
Texting and Driving Laws in South Carolina
South Carolina texting while driving laws have become a source of controversy within the state. The only penalties impose in the state currently are those relating to citations for texting while operating a vehicle. That makes them the only protection against texting and driving accidents that other motorists on the road have.
However, many officials, residents and lobbyist groups argue that current texting and driving fines are so small as to be meaningless. The way the law is worded also creates challenges for law enforcement officers attempting to enforce it.
Technically, by law, no South Carolina motorist may text while driving. Police are authorized to pull drivers over and issue a ticket even if the driver has not engaged in any erratic driving or other illegal or unsafe behavior.
But because motorists are still allowed to hold their phones in their hands while using them for other purposes, it can be nearly impossible for law enforcement to prove that a driver was, in fact, texting. As a result, most drivers never receive a texting and driving ticket even when one should have been issued. Newly proposed laws, if passed, would directly address that loophole.
South Carolina Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers
South Carolina distracted driving law contains no special or specific provisions for young or inexperienced drivers. Residents can obtain learners’ permits at 15 years of age and, like all other drivers, are subject to the prohibition on texting while operating a vehicle. No other restrictions are in place.
South Carolina Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders
Despite the well-known and dangerous facts about texting and driving, South Carolina has no specific law in place for commercial driver’s license holders aside from the state-wide ban on texting, which applies to all motorists.
Distracted Driving Penalties in South Carolina
Distracted driving fines in South Carolina are notoriously low, starting at less than a quarter of what a first offense would carry in many other states. South Carolina also differs from other states in that the consequences do not escalate with repeated citations.
Regardless of the number or severity of a motorist’s violations, fines remain comparatively low and never put drivers at risk of having their licenses suspended.
Under current law, the distracted driving consequences do not include having points added to one’s license. This exempts drivers from the higher insurance premiums that usually accompany unsafe driving practices, further escalating the problem. Proposed changes to the law currently being deliberated on by state authorities would impose much harsher consequences.
Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in South Carolina
South Carolina authorities encourage all motorists to actively seek out and implement ways to prevent texting and driving and other forms of distracted driving in their lives.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to purchase and get in the habit of using hands-free devices while on the road. Motorists are also encouraged to pull over when they absolutely need to use their devices while in a vehicle.
Experts also point out that planning enough time, or even extra time, to prepare for and travel to appointments and events can help motorists reduce distractions when driving. Drivers who must eat while on the road should choose foods that are easy to handle and eat so that they can keep their hands and eyes actively engaged in driving as much of the time as possible.