A bill banning drivers in South Carolina from holding cellphones in their hands passed its first hurdle.
The proposal would fine drivers $200 for using a cellphone or other electronic device in their hands. Drivers could talk on the phone with a hands-free device or use the GPS app on their phone or other electronic device as long as they entered their destination before driving.
South Carolina has banned texting while driving since 2014, but the sponsor of the new proposal, Republican Rep. Bill Taylor of Aiken, said the law is weak because the fine is just $25 and police often can’t write a ticket because a texting driver can say they were just making a call or using their GPS.
A House subcommittee approved the bill Tuesday, sending it on to the House Education and Public Works Committee.
State officials don’t know exactly how many wrecks or traffic deaths are caused by texting. But at Tuesday’s hearing, the state Department of Public Safety estimated that 62 of the 1,015 people killed on South Carolina roads were in wrecks caused by distracted driving.
State Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer said it is likely the small penalties and loopholes in the state’s texting law are part of a 10 percent increase in auto insurance premiums in recent years.
“We’re not very good drivers in our state,” Farmer said. “We need to learn to put the phone down.”
At least 16 states have banned drivers from holding cellphones, including Georgia, where Republican state Rep. John Carson sponsored that state’s ban on holding cellphones last year. Thirteen of the states that have similar bans reported at least a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities after the ban was passed, Carson said.
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