Last Tuesday’s testimony for H.3355 has been described as “gripping”, by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Taylor (Aiken-R). It was that and more.
H.3355 is the DUI-E (Driving while under the influence of an electronic device), aka Distracted Driving bill. South Carolina unsuccessfully tried a similar bill during the 2017-2018 legislative session, but I think this session will see something pass. Photos below are of everyone who testified in support of the bill. Take note of these facts: a LOT of people testified; they presented stories AND shocking facts from multiple government agencies; the support for this bill is broad.
Family members of people killed by distracted drivers spoke about the impact these deaths had on their families and communities. Because this public safety problem is preventable, it hurt more. They still work and must care for families, now without a bread winner or caretaker; yet they still felt compelled to drive the distance to testify. It meant that much in their now more difficult lives to speak in support of H.3355.
Representative Carson of Georgia, where just last year he helped his state pass the nation’s 16th distracted driving law, stated strongly that the most compelling reason to pass the law was the reduced costs for insurance. Insurance rates go up when people die and cars are damaged, so this bill will bring that back down. Fatalities went down 7% in Georgia so far since the law was passed last summer, and other states are seeing 16% reduction in fatalities annually. Georgia’s polling revealed broad support across both parties. Of GA democratic primary voters, 65% were in favor, and 81% of republican primary voters supported it.
Is it enforceable? YES. Rep. Carson stated you can’t invest time in getting warrants to search and seize a phone, per 4th amendment requirements. But this bill is clear and enforceable, because the regulation is that you can’t hold or support the phone with your body.
Director Ray Farmer, SC Department of Insurance, spoke about the impact to insurance, which is sizable. Major S. A. Stankus, SC Department of Public Safety, spoke about why this law will reduce total traffic fatalities. There was a 34% increase in fatalities from 2014-2016, which were caused in large part by factors related to distracted driving, because those increases came from 1) rear end collisions, 2) single car crashes, and 3) 18-25 y.o. drivers.
Then the SCDOT Secretary of Transportation Christie Hall said yes, this will reduce SC’s fatalities by ~62 each year, but include that there are always 4 times that number in serious injuries. Considering highway safety performance impacts federal funding for SCDOT, that’s likely one more reason she arrived to express her support. The reasons to support the bill kept adding up…
More testimony was heard about how SC would implement the law. The Palmetto Cycling Coalition testified that those objecting to the new law could be met with campaigns to educate people in every reach of our state on how they could meet the new standard. Public Safety Campaigns work. Hands free means you need to purchase a $1-20 device from your store of choice. Mount this new device on your dashboard, learn from a campaign how to use this new technology in using your device via blue tooth, and allow yourself one swipe while in motion. Educate with the campaign well before the new law takes effect.
Rep. Brown, a member of the subcommittee, expressed concern there would be inequitable enforcement of this new traffic law and a fear it would be used as an excuse to pull someone over. A valid concern. We spoke with him afterwards. Rep. Brown expressed support for the law, as long as it was amended to include a regular study of how equitably it was used in traffic enforcement. The bill successfully made it through its House subcommittee. The penalty is civil, with a $200 fine. It’s now on its way to the House full committee, Education & Public Works, Wednesday, February 6, 2019. Click here for THAT ACTION ALERT.