A group of South Carolina senators met in their "offseason" to hear from the public about a bill proposed to prohibit drivers from holding electronics while behind the wheel.
The Senate Transportation Subcommittee's Oct. 29 meeting served as a …
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The Senate Transportation Subcommittee's Oct. 29 meeting served as a public testimony for the South Carolina Hands Free Act, allowing concerned parties to give their thoughts on the bill that's meant to reduce distracted driving in the state. Still in its early stages, Senate Bill 723, filed by state Sen. Tom Young Jr., R-Aiken, and known as the hands-free bill, would prohibit drivers from holding their phone and other electronic devices while behind the wheel. It would also give law enforcement the ability to stop a driver for violating the rule. Currently, texting and driving is a secondary reason for being pulled over; law enforcement needs another reason to initiate a traffic stop.
It will carry a $100 fine and a threshold for second and subsequent offenses, which is up from South Carolina's current $25 fine. It will also come with a two-point violation on the person's drivers license.
The bill was introduced in the Senate in late March, and many have spoken in favor of the revisions.
"This legislation is so important, and we are happy to see that South Carolina legislators recognize that," AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said in a release. "This is a bill that motorists themselves are asking for - as more and more people are negatively affected by a distracted driver."
AAA Carolinas was one of 30 interested parties that spoke on behalf of the bill.
Among those in attendance were state Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk, D-Kershaw, and Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan, who mentioned an incident where one of his deputies was struck by a vehicle as she was directing traffic in an elementary school zone last week because the driver was distracted.
"Several years ago, we have passed making us the 49th state in the country to outlaw or ban texting and driving," state Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said. "We had some difficulty getting that legislation passed, but most folks will agree that it's nothing more than a slap on the wrist. It's just a civil penalty. It's not even a point violation, so I think a lot of legislators and a lot of the public just felt like it didn't go far enough."
McElveen said it's a real concern for South Carolina, especially with the state having some of the most dangerous roadways and highways in the country.
In 2018, there were 19,381 documented collisions in the state, resulting in 65 fatalities and 7,939 injuries as a result of distracted driving, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
McElveen said he supports the bill to take the issue a step further.
"We've got to continue doing what we can to try and keep people safe," McElveen said.
The bill will be heard at a later date and voted on to pass to the full transportation committee. If the bill passes the committee, it will be moved to the Senate for consideration.
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