When a distraction isn't a distraction

Today, the much talked about “Texting While Driving Bill” received a full floor debate in the House and, in the end, passed by a vote of 98-18.

Of course, for those hoping to stop the problem, I don’t think they’ll be pleased to learn exactly what passed.

As I shared from the well of the House, today we passed a bill that (a) bans only one distraction but not others (b) does not allow for any evidence in court other than visual and (c) places a “whopping” $25 fine for penalty with no points on license or information shared with insurance. Of course proponents may be excited to learn this will be a PRIMARY offense on our roads.

Nevermind, we have several other offenses our depleted law enforcement ranks should be on the lookout for and nevermind that – even supporters of the bill admitted – it will be very hard to determine who is and who is not texting. That is, unless they are swerving or driving recklessly. Which brings me to the point opponents shared – don’t we already have reckless driving laws on the books ? Do we really think a $25 fine with no points or insurance implications is going to fix the problem?

I’m no libertarian; but to me and others I heard from, this bill just screams of more “nanny government” and “feel good” legislation rather than a law that could actually solve a real problem. That problem? Inattention behind the wheel. THAT’S the problem, folks. I even learned that back in high school because of my actions as a young driver that lead me to spend a day in defensive driving class to earn points back on my license. Inattention and distractions are the problem we face and it’s more than just texting.

Don’t get me wrong. Is texting while driving a bad thing? Yes. Are there other things we do while driving that are bad too? Yes. But apparently elected officials decided that those things aren’t the same as texting. You know..things like “talking on the phone”, “putting on or taking off clothes”, “eating”, “putting on makeup”, “shaving”, “lighting a cigarette/smoking”, “using GPS equipment”, “using iPods”, “having a laptop on”. Those distractions must apparently be ok because they were voted down during the debate.

In my brief speech, I mentioned how a lady is either pregnant or not pregnant. She’s not “kinda pregnant”. Likewise, a driver is either distracted or not distracted. Not “kinda distracted”. Today, we said we’re ok with being “kinda distracted”…just not texting.

Oh well. A state Senator told me the bill is DOA in the Senate; but I guess at least several House members can tout passing a bill that’s all-the-rage across our country and feel good about it in the process. It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last.

Here’s my statement for the House Journal :

As an active supporter of “Alive @25” , including donating personal funds to pay for the inaugural class at Irmo High School, I am well aware of the risks each face driving on the roads of South Carolina. In particular, the risks to our youth (and by our youth), who do not have the years of experience that our adult drivers possess.

For that reason, I would support a ban on texting and mobile phones for those under 18 years of age.

The bill seems to be a duplication of laws already on the book (reckless driving). Furthermore, the bill would create additional burdens on law enforcement (to actually enforce the legislation). Lastly, the votes cast today do not seem consistent with providing true safety, awareness, or enforcement of other equally distracting events drivers see every day on our roads.

Distractions are distractions.

Whether it is 5 seconds or 15 seconds averting our eyes off the road or simply changing the radio station or putting a CD in the player. Whether “correcting” children’s behavior in the back seat or females putting on makeup or males shaving. All are actions everyone will agree are not only dangerous but also put lives in jeopardy. “Inattention” is the true danger while driving and it comes in more shapes than texting. Today we did not acknowledge that.

It was and is my intention not to vote for legislation that “feels good” – especially when it comes at the expense of more government intrusion, duplicity, and ineffective penalties to curb the problem.

Rep. Nathan Ballentine