Lexington woman pushes for tougher penalties after being hit by distracted driver

“It took almost two hours to cut me out of the car."

Hands-free bill in the state house

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Bonnie Bouknight of Lexington says she was driving on South Lake Drive in May of 2017 when her car was hit by a distracted driver who was on his phone. She’s now supporting legislation for tougher laws.

Legislation was pre-filed at the South Carolina State House to create a ban against driving under the influence of an electronic device, or DUI-E. The bill would mean much stricter laws in the Palmetto State when it comes to texting while driving.

Current laws categorize texting while driving a secondary offense, which means you have to be pulled over for something else first – like speeding – before you could be penalized for distracted driving. Under the new proposal, drivers can be pulled over anytime they’re seen holding their phone while in their vehicles, even if they’re at a stoplight. The only time you can use your phone is if your car is legally parked.

Republican representative Bill Taylor of Aiken is sponsoring the bill, which passed its first hurdle in the General Assembly on Tuesday. The bill passed the House Education and Public Works Subcommittee after what Taylor describes as three hours of “gripping” testimony. He says texting while driving is dangerous and deadly.

The bill will also mean a steep increase in the fine for texting while driving, from $25 to $200.

Bouknight is supporting tougher penalties now that she is living with permanent injuries after she says she was hit by a distracted driver who was on his phone back in 2017.

Bouknight describes the moments after the crash, saying, “It took almost two hours to cut me out of the car and then I was rushed to the hospital after that. I had a brain bleed. My foot has a plate and screws and all kinds of stuff. It was just crushed. My hand was broken. My arm was broken.”

Bouknight is supporting tougher penalties now that she is living with permanent injuries after she says she was hit by a distracted driver who was on his phone back in 2017.
Bouknight is supporting tougher penalties now that she is living with permanent injuries after she says she was hit by a distracted driver who was on his phone back in 2017.

Representative Taylor says, “Our texting law that was enacted in 2014 is a joke. Here’s the deal, you have to be stopped by a police officer as a secondary issue. Otherwise, they have to see you speeding or headlight out or something like that and then if they say to you, ‘were you texting?’ And you say, ‘no,’ there’s nothing they can do. We write very few texting violations in this state - on average, about 1,300 a year by the state police, 1,300 hundred a year. Most of us see 1,300 violations of that in a week’s time or two weeks’ time as we drive down the roads.”

With the new proposal, drivers get one touch, which allows them to do things like turn on music or accept an incoming call and then use the speaker or Bluetooth to continue to the conversation.

A similar bill was passed in Georgia in 2018.

“The hands-free bill in Georgia is working very well. Traffic deaths are down 7% and that’s just in the half year that it’s been in place. So, that’s a significant number. The other states that’ve had the hands-free bill in place for a period of time are reporting somewhere around 17% decline in deaths. If that were South Carolina, we would be saving 170 to close to 200 lives per year. That’s a lot of people that would still be living,” Taylor said.

Bouknight is hoping drivers will take the law more seriously if there’s a higher price to pay.

“I don’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve gone through. It’s not just the physical problems that are occurring. I still am not driving. I was diagnosed with PTSD. Sometimes, I’m just terrified in the car. It’s very difficult because I don’t trust the other drivers out there that their mind is on the road.”

During testimony this week, lawmakers also say texting while driving accidents have caused insurance rates to go up. Representative Taylor says ultimately we all pay for distracted driving.

Lexington County republican representative, Paula Rawl Calhoon, was added to the list of bill sponsors on Wednesday.

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