Texting while driving ban too trivial for government concern

  • Wednesday, August 21, 2013

For those of you concerned about my opposition to the Mount Pleasant ban on texting while driving, let me assure you that this column is not being texted or typed into my smart phone while driving. The irony is that I could be dictating it into a hands free device while driving and still be in compliance with these type of ordinances.

Based on some feedback I received after my initial column on this issue, some readers got the notion that I think texting while driving is a good idea. Let me assure you that I do not. But what I do think is a good idea is for governments to do substantive, meaningful things that actually achieve their intended purpose. For instance, now the City of Charleston is hot-to-bother about passing a texting while driving ban. Meanwhile, we have seen recently that the city’s streets continue to flood during moderate to heavy rainfall. This is every bit as much of a danger, health hazard and impediment to a city’s business and tourism, yet in its fifth century of existence, the problem persists. Texting has only been around about a decade or so. I think that as a municipal issue, texting in general falls under existing safe operation ordinances, and in specific, it should go to the back of the line.

Clemson was the first South Carolina town to pass an ordinance against texting while driving, having done so three years ago. How many citations do you think the police in Clemson have handed out over these three years?

Keep in mind the demographics of this college town would make it ripe for mass violation of this type of ban. The grand total of citations for texting while driving is 12. That’s right – 12 citations for texting while driving in three years of Clemson’s law against it. The police chief said that to prove a case, phone records might have to be subpoenaed, etc.

So I ask: does trying to enforce something this complicated sound like the most pressing use of our government resources?

Mount Pleasant police report 240 observations of distracted driving in 2012 and 330 so far this year. Chief Ritchie stated that merely observing a driver looking down would not be probable cause for making a stop under such a law.

Apparently, drivers can also refuse to turn over their cell phones when stopped. Complicated solution, isn’t it?

Mount Pleasant’s legal counsel, David Pagliorini, advised council that a hands-free ordinance is better than a text-specific ban. Bravo, counselor.

The point of all this debate and effort should be to make driving safer, not to target certain activities to ban.

I actually heard a Mount Pleasant town council member on local talk radio station WTMA say that while he supported banning texting while driving, he would in no way support a ban that restricted concrete truck drivers from using their radios while driving because he used to be in that business and knows that would hurt the concrete industry.

This is the type of playing favorites under the law that we cannot allow. The citizens know that the distracted driver of a multi-ton concrete truck can be even more dangerous than a distracted teenager texting while driving a Honda Civic.

And we haven’t broached the subject of cab drivers using their radios.

But never fear – regardless of what Mount Pleasant Town Council does about texting, this issue is under consideration by our state legislature in Columbia. Surely, as we have seen over the years, something wise, sensible and practical will come from there.

Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.will@gmail.com.

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