Lawmakers take a look at texting-while-driving legislation

Published: Feb. 7, 2013 at 5:34 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2013 at 5:34 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After failing to pass last year, texting and driving legislation is once again before South Carolina state lawmakers.

As it stands, South Carolina is still one of only a few states that has yet to pass any laws banning sending a text message while driving. While the bill is still in the House, supporters are hoping that South Carolina will soon join the 39 other states, D.C. and Puerto Rico who have a ban on texting while driving. An additional five states ban texting for beginner drivers.

Rep. Don Bowen of Anderson County is the bill's sponsor and has been working for two years to pass the legislation.

"We tried this bill in the last session, and we got it out of the House, but it didn't really have the legislative teeth that the bill needed," said Bowen.

Bowen says he's now more confident the bill will pass this go round.

On Wednesday, several lawmakers got the chance to test  texting and driving simulators in the State House lobby. AT&T set up the simulators in support of the legislation.

"We're hoping by putting the teeth back into the bill, and the awareness has become so much greater than it has in the past, that this time we won't have the opposition that we've had to it," said Bowen.

As it stands, House Bill 3121 would make distracted driving a misdemeanor with a $100 fine and two points off your license. If it was found that texting led to a fatal accident, the fine could increase to $10,000 and 10 years in prison.

"We've had so many problems with texting while driving, it's surpassed that of drinking while driving, and we feel like it should have its own specific category at this point because it's so serious of a crime," added Bowen.

But some, like Rep. Todd Rutherford of Richland County, argue the penalties are too stiff and that the law invades personal rights.

"The problem is that it's going to require an officer that pulls you over to take your phone, and go through your phone to figure out what you were doing," said Rutherford. "Because dialing on a cell phone and texting on a cell phone, how is the officer going to know the difference?"

Bowen argues that's not the case.

"It's not a matter of giving up your cell phone. A lot of people think that's what this is about, and that's not what it's about," said Bowen. "If you're texting and an officer stops you, you can tell him you weren't texting, and of course if he still thinks you were, he can subpoena your court records. When you go to trial he'll have the actual copies of what you were doing at that point in time."

House Bill 3121 was scheduled to go before the house for a second reading on Wednesday, however it was moved back to committee. If the bill comes out of committee, it will have a second reading in the House before going to a vote and then to the Senate.

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