In South Carolina, you have an unfortunately high risk of dying in a car crash. Our state has been ranked the third deadliest in the nation for car crashes, with an annual rate of 20.5 fatalities for every 100,000 persons in the population. Only Mississippi and Alabama have higher death rates from collisions. For perspective, the national average is almost half of South Carolina’s rate, at 11.6 deaths annually per 100,000 in the population.
Some believe it is no coincidence that our state has both a high car crash death rate and lax distracted driving laws. While SC does ban texting, there is no such ban on using handheld devices, and the minimum fine for texting is only $25.
Deaths and Injuries are Up
Numbers from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety demonstrate that distracted driving crashes are clearly increasing; injuries from such crashes are up by 1,000 compared to five years before. According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, nine people die and more than 1,000 suffer injuries in collisions involving a distracted driver each day in the U.S. Fatal crashes resulting from distraction have increased 17 percent since 2014.
Additionally, the number of deaths and injuries attributed to distraction crashes is probably low, because, on accident reports used by police, 26 states have no field to indicate texting as a cause; and 32 states have no field on their report forms to indicate hands-free cell phone usage, which is currently considered just as distracting as handheld phone usage.
Sadly, approximately 70 percent of drivers admit to using a cellphone while they drive, despite the known dangers; 42 percent have confessed that they read texts or email while behind the wheel.
Efforts to Pass Law Fail
SC lawmakers did not pass a bill that would have quadrupled the minimum fine for texting while operating a motor vehicle, because of what’s known as the crossover deadline. Any bill that doesn’t pass one chamber by April 10 needs a two-thirds majority vote to be considered by the other chamber. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, calls texting while behind the wheel a “public safety emergency” in our state. The minimum fine would have been raised to $100, with $300 fines for repeat offenders. Rep. Taylor claims that the police “could write 1,300 (tickets) a day in Columbia,” for texting drivers.
In the U.S., five of the ten deadliest states for all car crashes have statutes known as “preemption laws,” which prevent localities from passing their own laws against distracted driving. One of the five states? South Carolina.
A Plea Not to Drive Distracted
Legendary quarterback Brett Favre’s father died while behind the wheel. Because the former football player never wants to lose another loved one in a car crash, he has recorded a public service announcement (PSA) that is being broadcast in South Carolina. In the PSA, Favre asks drivers to stay off their phones because of the increasing number of fatalities due to distracted driving. In the PSA, he is straightforward about the issue, stating, “I refuse to lose someone I love to distracted driving, and you should too.”