Public hearing precedes council's vote on distracted driving ordinance

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

• Ordinance is here.

A public hearing is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. today for residents to voice their concerns on a proposed ordinance that could make it unlawful to use a mobile telephone for text messaging, electronic media or emailing while operating a vehicle in Greer.

City Council voted 4-3 on April 8, with Mayor Rick Danner casting the deciding vote to approve first reading of adapting an ordinance for second and final reading after today’s public session. Voting for the ordinance were Wayne Griffin, Kimberly Bookert and Judy Albert, who asked for the measure to be presented. No votes included Jay Arrowood, Lee Dumas and Wryley Bettis. Bettis also suggested waiting for a state law that would make all municipalities consistent in texting and cell phone use while operating a vehicle.

Two days later the South Carolina House and Senate passed different bills targeting reducing distracted driving. The House’s bill would ban texting and driving for all drivers, but the fine would be only $25 and no points on a driver's record. The Senate’s version would ban all hand-held cell phone use, but only for drivers with a beginner's or restricted license. The fine would be $75.

The Senate’s bill includes a $25 dollar surcharge that would go to the State's Trauma Care Fund. The legislature session ends in June.

At issue in Greer is following the trend of municipalities prohibiting texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle and the interpretation of whether electronic media specifically includes the cell phone.

The council’s split vote, 3-3, represented those for the ban wanting more protection from distracted drivers while the opposition disagreed denying citizens’ their civil right to make their own decision and prohibiting cell phone use in any context.

The most argued exception to the proposed ordinance was No. 4, which read: “The use of voice-operated technology while the device is being used for telephonic?communication provided the driver is not holding the device while driving.”

The city weighed in on the sensitive issue before the city council meeting with an excoriating posting taking to task media reporting of the ordinance and a citizen who, in a non-aggressive response, questioned the city’s defensive stance. That post inexplicably was removed after Arrowood and Bettis specifically questioned the controversial exception. Danner suggested that exception would be modified or stricken for the second reading and the city also posted, “That exception was added to the proposed ordinance by the city attorney and will likely be struck.”

The city’s ordinance was virtually copied, without exception or amendments, from one the City of Clemson adopted in 2010.

The Greer ordinance is worded to prohibit “motor vehicles” but did not specifically include motorcycles, mopeds or bicycles.

Police Chief Dan Reynolds, when asked how his department would be able to interpret if a driver operating a vehicle was text messaging or talking on the phone, shrugged his shoulders and with outstretched arms said, “You can’t.”

Albert quoted statistics from a AAA report on distracted driving and a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration 2012 report on deaths (3,328) and injuries (421,000) to defend why the ordinance should be adapted to include the distracted driving.

Greer does not accumulate reports of incidents caused by distracted driving.

The penalty for violation of the proposed section is a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail or both with court costs pushing the total over $200.





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