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Wed. Nov. 26 8:19 pm
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010

Patchwork of texting rules criticized

Morris News Service
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Roselyn Miller holds a picture of her daughter, Jewel, a Hephzibah High student who was texting on her phone before her fatal crash in May.
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South Carolina and Florida drivers, beware: What's legal in your home state is a crime over the state line.

Georgia has fined texters $150 since summertime, while Florida and South Carolina drivers continue to legally text behind the wheel. Adding to the checkerboard of laws, North Carolina drivers, like Georgians, face tickets for texting while driving.

Tom Crosby, the AAA spokesman for the Carolinas, says the law should not change every time a motorist crosses a state line.

"The patchwork of anti-texting laws calls out for every state adopting anti-texting legislation, just like we have for drinking and driving," he said.

He said more than 400 tickets have been issued in North Carolina, including some for visitors from South Carolina.

South Carolina's House passed a ban in the past session, 98-18, but the effort stalled in the Senate. Similar legislation fizzled in Florida's Legislature.

Don Smith, North Augusta's former Republican state representative, had championed last session's texting-ban legislation before retiring. The bill pitted traditional Republicans and Democrats against Republicans who identified themselves as tea party members.

Then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among those who voted against Smith's proposed ban. The governor-elect's office did not respond to a question about her current position.

If the incoming Republican governor does maintain her opposition, it will mean that any bill, such as Rep. Joe McEachern's texting ban, would need a veto-proof margin of support in order to become law.

This month, McEachern, a Columbia Democrat, prefiled H. 3119, which targets the practice, which has been banned by about 30 states and deemed a road hazard by AAA and the Governors Highway Safety Association.

For McEachern, the issue became personal.

About a year ago, his then-25-year-old son was run off the road in Columbia by a driver who was texting. The lawmaker said his son was not seriously injured, but the experience showed him the dangers.

McEachern said he expects his legislation to get further when lawmakers return Jan. 11 than it did in the past session because the issue has had time to ripen after countless hours of debate and public awareness.

Like Crosby, he pointed to the Southeast's hodgepodge of laws.

"If South Carolina does not have a texting law, and then you're going into Georgia, all of a sudden you're violating a law there," McEachern said. "I don't think it's fair to the public."

He said he is not calling for South Carolina to mirror every Georgia law, but insisted, "When you're talking about a law that would protect the public from not only property damage but loss of life, I think that's reasonable to expect."

Since July 1, the Georgia State Patrol has issued about 100 citations for failing to use due care, which includes texting and the teen ban on cell use and texting. A negligible portion of the tickets were written for South Carolina motorists, according to the agency.

Critics of a texting ban have argued that law enforcement would have a hard time detecting perpetrators and that it would arbitrarily target one activity, when plenty of others, from eating to grooming to transporting children, also distract drivers.

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