Opinion

Commentary: You can still text while driving in S.C.

On July 1, texting while driving became illegal in Georgia, just like it is in 29 other states for all drivers and another eight states for the least experienced drivers.

It didn't become illegal in South Carolina. Not for adults. Not for minors. Not because the laws of brain activity or physics are different in South Carolina, but because the laws of politics are different.

South Carolina — like Georgia and several other states that had not previously realized that you actually had to tell people not to type notes on tiny little keyboards while they're flying down the highway at 80 mph — started 2010 with lawmakers promising to ban texting.

Our Legislature — like Georgia's and several others — held hearings, took votes, gave initial approval to bans. But Georgia's lawmakers actually passed a law, banning texting and reading and sending e-mails, and slapping a $150 fine on offenders, because anyone with a fully developed brain knows that texting while driving is deadly. And no phone use of any sort by those kids with provisional licenses.

Meantime, South Carolina's lawmakers spent the session competing to see who could make our bill the least effective, and then making sure it never passed. First, they settled for a measly $25 fine, with one point that would go away after a year. Then they prohibited police from checking cell phone records if the driver denies she was typing a message. Finally, they slow-walked the bill, with endless debates over whether the state that is so strangled by adolescent misconceptions about individual "rights" that it only five years ago agreed to let police enforce our safety belt law should settle for a mere text ban rather than holding out for a ban on hand-held phones.

The House-passed bill didn't land on the Senate floor until two weeks before the session ended, and after senators fiddled with it a bit and ignored it a bit more, Sen. Shane Martin placed an objection on it, which meant it was dead unless he changed his mind or at least 26 senators voted to leapfrog it ahead of everything else competing for their attention in the final four days of the session.

On the last day of the regular session, he did change his mind, and the Senate approved a slight change proposed by Sen. Jake Knotts, who after years of fighting enforcement of the seat belt law declared earlier this year that the had seen the light and rejected his libertarian approach to highway safety. It was a meaningless gesture, since the bill needed to be approved on two successive days. Still, Sen. Darrell Jackson put up an amendment to ban all hand-held cell phones, Sen. Dick Elliott objected to any further wasting of the Senate's time, and that was the end of that.

To read the complete column, visit www.thestate.com.

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