South Carolina Teens Can Text and Talk while Driving

May 2, 2008

South Carolina lawmakers decided it’s OK for 15- and 16-year-olds to talk and text message on cell phones while driving.

The House voted April 30 to send a measure blocking such activities back to a committee, ending its chances for passage this year.

The measure would have made it illegal for anyone with a beginner’s permit, conditional or special restricted driver’s license to use a phone or other wireless device while driving. In South Carolina, teens can get a regular driver’s license when they turn 17.

Its sponsor, Rep. Lanny Littlejohn, argued young people just learning to drive need to concentrate, and the bill could save lives.

“It’s a vulnerable time,” said the Pacolet Republican, noting that 17 other states already limit cell phone use in cars. “I think we’re heading in the right direction on this.”

But opponents argued cell phones aren’t the only distraction to drivers, citing eating, reading, and applying makeup as just a few other examples. They worried the bill could lead to bans for older drivers, despite Littlejohn’s assurances otherwise.

Critics also said an exception allowing teens to use handsfree devices would make the measure pointless.

“It’s illegal to put a phone up to their ear, but it’s perfectly legal for them to go down the road with a Bluetooth in their ear?” asked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land.

House Committee Chairman Bob Walker countered handsfree talking is no different than talking to someone in the car. The Landrum Republican agreed no driver devotes his full attention to the road but said it’s reasonable to restrict phone use for teens just learning to react behind the wheel.

But debate was cut short with the vote to send it back.

“We’re not coming close to doing anything effective here,” said Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence. “We’re pretending to do something we’re not.”

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