South Carolina’s careless driving law moving through legislature

With the meteoric rise in people texting while driving, especially among the young, South Carolina legislators are working on a law to address the problem as other states have done.

U.S. Department of Transportation leading the fight against testing while driving

Since 2009, the battle to stop texting while driving has led the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch campaigns to raise public awareness, hold distracted driving summits, and otherwise encourage states to adopt tougher laws.

A Pew Research Center study from 2011 revealed that young adults use texting more than any other group by far and prefer texting to talking. Cell phone users in the 18 to 24 age range on average exchange over a hundred messages a day or over 3,000 per month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2012 that young drivers had a higher rate of crash or near crash experiences than any other age group while using cell phones.

Proposed bill quickly outmoded

The South Carolina General Assembly has for years attempted to define and prohibit distracted or careless driving. Senate Bill 257 introduced in 2007 was intended to add a section prohibiting driving carelessly as a result of being distracted, and listed a number of distractions including reading, writing, grooming, and interacting with passengers, pets or unsecured cargo. The bill defined driving carelessly as "operating a vehicle without care and caution and without full regard for the safety of persons or property."

The 2007 bill also listed as distractions the use of computers, wireless telephones and personal communication technologies. These definitions seem strange or outmoded to us even seven years later, considering the speed at which digital and wireless technology has become omnipresent. Placing calls with a cellphone still rivaled texting as the main function of cellphones back in 2007, and smart phones were not ubiquitous as they are today.

New bills address texting while driving

With the rise in accidents and fatalities due to texting while driving in recent years, many state legislatures have addressed this new distraction with new laws. The South Carolina House or Representatives introduced a new bill last year to add a law that redefines careless driving to include texting while driving.

The bill also would amend the reckless driving law to prohibit driving in an inattentive or distracted manner including texting while driving which results in bodily injury. The new proposed law also says that two points must be assessed against the driving record for persons convicted of careless driving; the 2007 bill did not assess points.

Alternative penalties for distracted driving seen as revenue generators

Charges of careless driving have become more prevalent in towns and cities in the last few decades, as they tacked on fees and fines to pay for public safety and other programs. Several of South Carolina's counties have ordinances that allow careless driving tickets as an alternative to state traffic violations.

However, these ordinances do not have a uniform definition of careless driving; one merely makes it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle "in a careless manner in disregard of the safety of persons or property." A state law would clarify the definitions and make charges of distracted driving more uniform for all counties, and not just serve to generate revenue.

Whether you are just passing through or are a South Carolina resident, you may be stopped and charged with careless or reckless driving and face having points placed on your license or higher insurance costs. It is imperative to contact an experienced traffic law attorney and find out what your options are to fight the charges.