SC Senate advances hands-free driving bill

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 5:25 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 6:43 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina drivers could be hit with a ticket if their hands are on their phone while they’re behind the wheel if new legislation advanced Wednesday by the state Senate becomes law.

The Hands-Free Act now heads over to the state House of Representatives for debate. The Hands-Free Act is more expansive than current state laws that already ban texting and driving.

Under the new bill, drivers would be prohibited from even holding or supporting their phone while they operate a vehicle unless they are parked or stopped.

“As a trooper, a lot of times, we see vehicles that are all over the roads, we see collisions, we see crashes, we stop motorists who we believe are drunk and come to find out, they’re too busy looking at their phone,” South Carolina Highway Trooper David Jones said.

Under the Hands-Free Act, drivers could get a ticket for holding a phone or being on their phone in general while they’re driving. That includes texting, emailing, reading a message, or surfing the web.

It would also ban drivers from watching a video, game, or video call while they’re operating a vehicle, even if they aren’t physically holding the phone or device.

“When you’re driving a 6,000-pound vehicle, you need both hands on the wheel,” Jones said. “You need to pay attention to your surroundings. You need to watch out and drive defensively for other drivers.”

For the first offense, drivers would receive a $100 ticket. For each offense after that, drivers would face a $200 ticket plus two points on their record.

Those penalties would not apply if drivers are parked or stopped, including at a red light.

Columbia resident Christian Turner says he sees drivers on their phones every day he rides his motorcycle.

“I’ve done been hit off my bike for someone being on their phone,” he said.

But he had mixed feelings on the bill.

“It would be a good law to have, but no one’s going to follow it,” he said.

About half of states already have a hands-free driving law.

Sen. Tom Young (R-Aiken), the lead sponsor of South Carolina’s bill, says data from those states show legislation like this will change outcomes here as well.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that this bill is not going to stop everybody from using their phone in a hands-free fashion,” Young admitted. “But what we will see is that there will be compliance by a large number of people, and that will reduce some of the accidents.”

If this bill does become law, there would be a three-month warning period after it goes into effect before drivers would face penalties.

Some senators said Wednesday they would like to see legislation that would also prevent drivers from eating, applying makeup, or doing other things while driving that could take their focus away from the road.

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