As accident attorneys in Rock Hill, South Carolina, we’ve helped people who have been injured in a wreck resulting from texting and driving. Many of us remember the days of bulky, expensive cell phones. These were the “early days” of cell phone use before every American carried one in their purse or pocket. As we improve our technology, making it both more accessible and more impressive, it is easy to see how our advances have changed our daily lives. A plethora of features and apps available to us through our phones makes life easier but come with some consequences as well. One major ramification of increased cell phone usage is the increased number of accidents caused by distracted drivers around South Carolina. It is commonplace to see a driver paying more attention to their device than to the road. The correlation between cell phone popularity and texting and driving accidents should be obvious, and in response to the increasing danger on the roads and highways, multiple laws and bills have been proposed and enacted to help limit the risks associated with phone usage while driving.
THE DANGERS OF DISTRACTED DRIVING IN SOUTH CAROLINA
While many of us have taken a quick glance at our phones while behind the wheel, many do not know the real dangers associated with this practice. Studies have shown that drivers distracted by a cell phone are just as likely, if not more likely, to cause an accident as a drunk driver. Additionally, careless driving has replaced driving under the influence as the leading cause of death amongst teenage drivers. Not only are teens less familiar with rules of the road and proper driving etiquette, but they are also the demographic most likely to become distracted by their cell while on the road. Changing songs on their phone’s radio app, entering an address into their GPS, or texting a friend for directions can all lead to a serious collision.
South Carolina lawmakers recognized the dangers associated with distracted driving and put forth a law banning texting while driving in 2014. The law, introduced as Senate Bill 459, prohibits the use of a cell phone to read or compose text-based messages while operating a vehicle but does allow the driver to dial and make phone calls, use their GPS, and use voice-based text messaging. There are even some circumstances in which a driver may text or email. Drivers stopped at a red light, for instance, may still use their phones to text until the light turns green. Emergency text messages are allowed if they are deemed to have been necessary for the situation.
Despite the new law making texting while driving illegal, it is still a major problem on our roads. Perhaps it is because the fine for a first offense texting while driving in South Carolina is only $25, much lower than many other states in the nation. For reference, Georgia’s fine for first offense texting while driving is $130 and North Carolina’s fine is $230. The difference in the highest and lowest fines for individual states is staggering. The first offense in South Carolina will leave you with a $25 ticket, but the same offense in Alaska can carry a fine of thousands of dollars, with the possibility of jail time as well. Although one may expect that further violations would lead to steeper penalties for distracted drivers, the truth is that subsequent violations add a little penalty for repeat offenders; a second distracted driving charge comes with just a $50 ticket. The problem with such a small penalty for successive tickets can lead to repeat offenders who simply don’t care too much about another ticket.
OTHER CONSEQUENCES OF TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
Because of the relatively small fines for texting while driving in South Carolina, the real costs may not be obvious at first. In order to make a stop in the first place, an officer must have a clear view of a driver using their phone to be able to pull them over. Even after a stop has been made, the police officer cannot seize a cell phone in order to prove that the driver was texting at the time of the stop. Thus, it is difficult for the officer to be sure of what the driver was really doing. As mentioned earlier, the use of a cell phone while driving is not illegal, and it is difficult for an officer to know if you were texting or using a GPS app, for example. Should the officer stop someone for distracted driving, however, and find that the driver was committing a different crime, they certainly have the right to arrest you for those violations. For example, if a police officer was to stop a driver for texting and happened to smell alcohol during the stop, it could lead to the driver’s arrest on a DUI charge. Similarly, someone who is driving under suspension can be caught when the officer further investigates the driver’s credentials. Additionally, should the driver fail to appear in court or pay the fine on the distracted driving ticket, a warrant for their arrest would be issued.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENT?
Obviously, despite our State’s best intentions, not everyone will obey the law. As stated earlier, the State’s overwhelming concern, and the reason for the law, is preventing collisions caused by distracted drivers. Should such a collision occur, the victim of the careless driver’s actions may be hospitalized and suddenly there are medical bills to pay, insurance companies to deal with, and the accident victim’s own recovery to worry about? In this case, it is prudent to speak with an attorney about your rights as an accident victim. An experienced attorney who is well versed in South Carolina law will be able to understand your situation completely and work with you to get the best settlement possible. Lewis Law Firm in Charleston, SC has over 50 years of combined experience helping accident victims in the Low Country. We understand that the last thing anyone wants to do after a collision and injury is to deal with other attorneys or insurance companies. Let Lewis Law Firm focus on your case, negotiations, and settlement recovery while you focus on your own recovery. If you’ve been in an accident caused by distracted driving or any other type of driver negligence, call us today to schedule a free case evaluation.