Is it illegal to text and drive in South Carolina?
The average smartphone user taps or swipes their smartphone 2,617 times per day.
In an increasing number of states, including South Carolina, that tap or swipe may be against the law if done while operating a motor vehicle.
In this article, we’ll take a look at South Carolina’s distracted driving laws, including how these laws impact your personal injury lawsuit.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is any action that involves taking your eyes off the road (visual distraction), taking your hands off the wheel (manual distraction), or taking your mind off the task of driving (cognitive distraction).
Although there are a number of activities that can be distracting, such as eating or talking to passengers, most distracted driving accidents involve the use of a mobile phone.
Is it dangerous to use your mobile phone while driving?
Using your mobile phone while driving is extremely dangerous because it diverts your attention from the road, which can cause you to miss obstacles (like a deer darting into the road or the brake lights of the car in front of you) or lose control of your vehicle.
It may seem like glancing down at your cell phone for a split second is no big deal, but consider that sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds on average—long enough to cover the length of a football field while driving at 55 miles per hour.
Still not convinced that it’s dangerous to use a mobile phone while driving?
A research study conducted by the University of Utah found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a mobile phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08%.
How common is distracted driving in South Carolina?
South Carolina has one of the biggest distracted driving problems in the United States.
“It’s true, we are some of the worst drivers in the country,” said Director for the South Carolina Department of Insurance Ray Farmer. (source)
Consider the following facts:
- South Carolina consistently ranks in the top 5 nationwide for fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
- In 2019, 1,002 people died in traffic accidents in South Carolina (that equates to 1 death every 9 hours)
- Roughly 64% of all traffic accidents in South Carolina involve cell phone usage
South Carolina’s distracted driving law
South Carolina’s distracted driving law can be found in South Carolina Code Section 56-5-3890.
The law makes it illegal to use an electronic communication device (smartphone, laptop, personal digital assistant, etc.) to compose, send, or read a text-based communication (including an email) while driving on a public street or highway.
Notably, the law does NOT prohibit drivers from talking, watching a video, or browsing the internet on their mobile phones. However, that doesn’t mean you should do it. For your own safety, you should avoid your cell phone whenever you’re behind the wheel.
South Carolina’s distracted driving law does NOT apply to a person who is:
- Lawfully parked or stopped
- Summoning emergency assistance
- Transmitting or receiving data as part of a digital dispatch system
- A public safety official performing their official duties
- Using a GPS feature on a wireless electronic communication device
Penalties for using a mobile phone while driving
A violation of South Carolina’s distracted driving law is considered a “primary offense,” which means police officers can pull you over for violating the law so long as the officer has a “clear and unobstructed view” of the violation.
A driver will receive a fine of up to $25 for violating the law. A violation doesn’t get reported to your insurance company. What’s more, a police officer can’t seize or search your phone based solely on a violation of the law.
Efforts to change South Carolina’s distracted driving law
South Carolina’s distracted driving law is one of the weakest in the country. Many critics feel that:
- The $25 penalty is not severe enough
- The law is too difficult to enforce
- The law should be extended to ban talking and watching videos on a mobile phone
In 2019, lawmakers in South Carolina introduced House Bill 3355. The language of the bill made it illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving and proposed a $200 fine per violation. Though the bill did not pass the state senate, similar bills will likely be introduced in the future.
How does a distracted driving ticket affect a personal injury lawsuit?
The statutory penalty for violating South Carolina’s distracted driving law is minor. The real cost is felt if the distracted driver is involved in an accident.
In most car accidents, the plaintiff has to prove 3 elements of negligence to recover damages from another driver:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care (the law requires all drivers to exercise “reasonable care” while operating a vehicle so as not to harm others on the road),
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury.
Under the doctrine of negligence per se, the defendant’s law-breaking act serves to establish the first 2 elements automatically. In other words, if you can show that the defendant broke the law by texting while driving, you don’t have to show that the defendant owed you a duty and breached that duty.
What to do if you’ve been in an accident with a distracted driver
In any car accident, the safety of everyone involved should be your top priority. In South Carolina, the law requires that you render reasonable aid (such as calling 9-1-1) to anyone injured in an accident.
Once you’re sure everyone is safe, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of recovering damages down the road:
- Call the police. Even if the accident appears to be minor, it’s a good idea to call the police. The police will conduct a quick investigation and there’s always the possibility that the at-fault driver admits to being distracted.
- Take note of any evidence that the crash involved a distracted driver. Is there music blasting from the at-fault driver’s speakers? Are the passengers talking to the at-fault driver about anything that suggests the driver was distracted when the crash occurred?
- Collect witness information. Witnesses are notoriously difficult to track down after an accident. Collect the telephone number and address of any witnesses on the scene. It’s always possible that a witness, perhaps a bystander or the person who was driving alongside the at-fault driver, saw the at-fault driver texting on their mobile phone.
- Document everything. It’s a good idea to keep track of any medical expenses that are incurred as a result of the accident. Similarly, it’s a good idea to keep track of any day-to-day limitations caused by the accident. This information will help support your claim for damages.
If you end up filing a personal injury lawsuit, your lawyer will gather information to support your case, such as the other driver’s phone records (to see if a text was sent or read immediately before your accident). The more information you can provide to your lawyer at the outset, the more efficient your lawyer can be.
Tips to avoid distracted driving
The South Carolina Department of Insurance provides several tips for avoiding distracted driving:
|Before your car moves||While on the road|