Distracted driving causes more fatalities on America’s roadways every year than speeding or even drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nine people are fatally injured every day as a result of distracted drivers, and over a thousand more are injured. Distracted driving is defined as any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the task of driving. Although 80 percent of drivers believe that distracted driving is a serious safety issue, surveys reveal that the pressure to multitask causes many drivers to engage in this dangerous driving behavior anyway.
Studies indicate that the popular concept of multitasking is a misnomer. Scientific research reveals that the brain can only concentrate on one activity at a time. Rather than focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously, our brains switch back and forth rapidly between one activity and another. This makes multitasking while driving particularly dangerous. Studies indicate that the average time it takes a driver to read or compose a text message is five seconds. At a speed of 55 miles per hour, that can be the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field while blindfolded. Furthermore, drivers remain distracted an average of 27 seconds even after putting down the phone or tinkering with the navigation system. This “latency period” is a widely unrecognized danger for drivers and a known factor in many wrecks.
Types of Distraction
There are three primary categories of distraction. First, drivers are visually distracted when they take their eyes off the road to look at a device, or even another person in the car. Secondly, drivers are manually distracted when they take their hands off the wheel to manipulate something in the car. Finally, drivers are cognitively distracted when they take their mind off the task of driving.
Anything that takes a driver’s attention off the road is a distraction, but some of the more common distracted driving activities include:
- Using a cell phone to talk while driving (hands free or hand held)
- Texting while driving
- Eating while driving
- Using navigation systems or other in-vehicle technologies
- Using an mp3 player
- Adjusting the radio or climate controls
- Reading, including maps
- Applying make-up or other personal grooming activities
- Checking social media
- Checking email
- Downloading music
- Talking to other passengers in the car
- Reaching in the back seat to hand things to children
While all of these behaviors can increase a driver’s risk of being involved in a car accident, using a smartphone while driving (texting and driving) is the most dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions at once—visual, manual, and cognitive.
Texting and Driving In South Carolina
In response to growing awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, South Carolina lawmakers have banned texting behind the wheel. The activity is considered a primary offense, meaning police officers can pull over drivers seen texting while driving without any other pretext for the stop. Tickets range from $25 to $50, depending on whether it is a driver’s first offense. The use of cell phones for making calls is still permitted, as is the use of GPS systems on hand held devices.
Proving Negligence In a Distracted Driving Case
If an accident occurs, cell phone, text, or email records may be made available in discovery. Other evidence of distracted driving may include:
- Admission by the driver
- Eyewitness testimony
- Video evidence from surveillance cameras or pedestrian cell phone video
- Analysis of skid marks or lack thereof
South Carolina’s Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving is never a good idea, but it is more prevalent on the roads than ever before. Lawmakers do not always agree on what constitutes distracted driving. As a result, the laws vary from state to state. Unfortunately, South Carolina does not have a good record for distracted driving. It has been reported that the state ranks third for worst driving in the country. Some believe that these numbers reflect the fact that South Carolina does not have stringent regulations in place for distracted driving.
According to the South Carolina Department of Insurance, distracted driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle while doing something else that diverts their attention. Within the state, distracted driving can include grooming, eating, or interacting with passengers while driving. One of the leading causes of distracted driving is cell phone usage, but the state has only made texting while driving illegal. There are no other restrictions on cell phone usage while driving.
Distracted Driving Penalties in South Carolina
For now, South Carolina police can issue tickets to motorists for texting while driving. The fines start at $25, which is less than 25 percent of first offense fines in other states, and no points are added to the driver’s license. Also, it is legal for the drivers to hold their phones while driving for other reasons, such as use of navigation. Repeated infractions do not substantially increase the fine amounts, nor do they pose a risk for driver license suspension. The procedures make it hard to implement the law, and few tickets are written as a result. There are laws under review that may address these issues.
Penalties in Other States
Keeping in mind that South Carolina has a $25 texting while driving fine without increases for additional offenses, the following are examples of regulations in other states:
- Maryland: Drivers using cell phones must be hands-free. First offenders pay $83, with the limit being $160.
- New York: Drivers using cell phones must be hands-free. First offenders pay $50, with the limit being $250.
- North Carolina: Cell phone usage does not have to be hands-free, but texting and application use is not allowed. Fines range from $25 to $100.
- Pennsylvania: Phone calls are permitted, but interactive wireless communication is not. Fines start at $50 for the first offense.
- Virginia: Distracted driving includes texting and other actions, such as eating. The first offense is $125, and this can increase with repeat offenses.
Laws May Be Changing
State lawmakers are proposing stricter laws to address the crisis. A AAA Carolinas spokeswoman stated that distracted driving is an epidemic in South Carolina, and it is even more concerning than drunk driving. She added that stiffer penalties are needed to change driver behaviors. Representative Bill Taylor recommended increasing the first offense fine to $100, with $300 and two points for second and third offenses. Nothing has been decided yet, but these changes could make South Carolina a safer state for drivers.
South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Pursue Maximum Compensation for Victims Injured in Distracted Driving Accidents
If you have been seriously injured, or suffered the wrongful death of a loved one in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, we can help. The Columbia car accident lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. are committed to helping injured victims and their families obtain the justice they deserve and the compensation they need to ease their financial burden. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 803-929-3600 or 866-881-8623, or contact us online. We serve residents of Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, Newberry County, Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, Chapin, Rock Hill, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Florence, and Spartanburg.