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Drivers face mixed South Carolina texting laws

South Carolina is one of a few states without an outright ban on texting while driving. As a result, drivers in the state face inconsistent rules on distracted driving and penalties, depending on which county and municipality they are driving in. The inconsistent laws and uncertainty can have a lethal impact.

Distracted driving is behavior that diverts the driver's attention from the road and includes texting and cell phone use. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that distractions were involved in 10 percent of fatal car accidents and 17 percent of injury crashes in the United States in 2011. In that year, 3,331 people were killed and another 387,000 were injured in a distracted driving accident. At least one of the drivers who was texting, or using cell phones was involved in these accidents causing 385 fatalities and 21,000 injuries for that year, according to the NHTSA.

Distracted driving bans are ambiguous in South Carolina because city and town limits are unclear and sanctions vary. The City of Hardeeville became the latest municipality in South Carolina to adopt a distracted-driving ordinance earlier this month. Signs announcing the ban will be posted and its police will make traffic stops, but issue warning tickets for the first 60 days of its ban. Violators may ultimately face a $100 fine.

Rules vary throughout this county. Distracted driving has been banned in Hilton Head Island since July and since September in unincorporated areas. Violators in Hilton Head face a $100 penalty for a first offense, although deputy sheriffs have only issued approximately 12 warnings. In the City of Beaufort, however, the ban began one year ago and drivers face a $50 fine for a first offense and law enforcement has issued nine citations and 31 warnings. Other towns such as Port Royal, Bluffton and Yemassee have no bans, although Port Royal and Bluffton will consider implementing a ban within the next few months.

Texting, cell phone use and other distracted driving will continue to pose a threat to South Carolina motorists and pedestrians because of this random enforcement. South Carolina residents who suffer injuries as a result of distracted drivers may be entitled to compensation for medical treatment, pain and suffering and lost wages resulting from these accidents. Seeking prompt advice will help secure evidence such as an accident investigation and assure that ones legal rights are protected after a car accident.

Source: The Beaufort Gazette, "Is texting while driving illegal in the Lowcountry? Depends on where you are," Rebecca Lurye, Oct. 26, 2013

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