As the City of Charleston begins debating a texting ban for drivers, reports from other regions in the country highlight the challenges in enforcing such a law.
City Council will have it’s first discussion Tuesday regarding a ban proposed by Mayor Joe Riley. The measure would prohibit typing and reading text or e-mail messages.
“I know that the safety of those who utilize the city’s public right-of-ways is of utmost concern to you as well,” Riley wrote last week in a letter to council members, saying the goal is to protect these people from the harms of texting drivers.
Nearly two dozen states currently have texting bans. The South Carolina state legislature is weighing its own ban and there’s similar legislation in Congress that would institute a national ban.
The reality is that any law on texting is difficult to enforce and doesn’t address other, more pervasive examples of distracted driving, like general cell phone use and digging through the iPod, ironically, for Radiohead’s “Airbag.”
More than six weeks into a statewide ban in New Hampshire, there were still no tickets, according to a reports last month in The Union Leader of Manchester.
New Jersey has a law banning both texting and hand-held cell phone use. Even with an average of 10,000 citations a month, state officials are still taking heat for lax enforcement. Texting in the state has actually climbed from 15 percent in 2007, when the state ban was enacted, to 21 percent last year, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University study released last summer.
“(Officers) are doing everything they can,” said N.J. highway safety director Pam Fisher earlier this month in the Herald News. “The problem is, we have far more violators than we have police.”
Studies in North Carolina, New York, and Washington, D.C., that these laws require a two-front strategy: a pervasive media campaign alerting drivers to the new law and a strong push in ticketing or, at least, perceived enforcement.
A critical component may be outside the government. One public safety initiative that found success locally in the past few years has been the effort to ban smoking in businesses. A large part of the public education on that issue came from nonprofit efforts like Smokefree South Carolina. And national driver safety campaigns like Click It or Ticket or efforts to curb drunk driving rely heavily on private or non-profit support.