COLUMBIA --- Critics of efforts to ban texting while driving in South Carolina say it will be difficult to catch offenders, but some authorities in states that have the ban say they have had little trouble.
"It's no different than an officer articulating that he saw someone run a stop sign," Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, said of the state's nearly year-old ban.
In Minnesota, where the ban has been in place for nearly two years, state troopers have busted 521 texting drivers.
"Sometimes people will say, 'I was dialing my phone' or, 'I was answering a phone call,' " said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske, noting that the total does not include citations issued by local law enforcement.
"But typically if we have an opportunity to watch someone for a couple seconds, like on an interstate with several lanes, you can drive up next to them and you can tell if they start talking to someone or if they continue punching away," he said.
On May 5, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Wisconsin had become the 25th state to ban texting while driving in some form. Whether South Carolina joins them before the Legislature adjourns next month is being debated in the Senate.
Both the Senate proposal, S. 642, and the House version, H. 4282, are on the Senate calendar. Both define texting to include sending and reading e-mails.
On Wednesday the Senate bill was held up amid concerns by Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, who raised one of the central arguments against a texting ban: You cannot tell if someone is texting or making a phone call.
In Connecticut a driver can be cited for holding an electronic device. The state has outlawed hand-held electronic devices for five years but also provides a one-time forgiveness for violators who show proof they have purchased a hands-free device.
But in Tennessee, identifying an offender can be trickier. Mike Browning said the law's language, which says texting is OK if the vehicle is stopped, requires police to be especially observant.
"It's a challenge," he said. "But at the same time, the THP and state Legislature, I think, believe texting is a very dangerous activity while driving, so we try to get the message out there."
In Maryland texting has been illegal since October, and all hand-held devices will be against the law this October.
"When we look over and see someone trying to steer with their phone on the steering wheel while they are texting away, we can take appropriate action," said Elena Wendell-Russo, spokeswoman for Maryland State Police.
In Colorado, where the ban has been in place for six months, state troopers have caught about 130 texters.