South Carolina bills seek to protect road funds, drivers

| 12/15/2010

South Carolina lawmakers will soon be back at work at the capitol. An estimated 2,100 bills are expected to be introduced during the next few months. Among them are a handful of measures that will cover transportation funding and highway safety.

Sens. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, and Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, have offered similar versions of a bill that is intended to ensure roads and bridges get more money. Revenue from the collection of sales, use or vehicle titling would be required to be credited to the state’s highway fund.

Supporters say that with so few options available to states to raise revenue it is important to protect funds that are already accessible.

Efforts to limit driver distractions are likely to get plenty of attention at the statehouse. Among the topics that should draw a lot of discussion is hand-held cell phone use. Multiple House bills have already been filed that seek to curb the practice.

A year ago House lawmakers approved a texting ban, but it died in the Senate. The bill met its demise because senators were unable to reach agreement on penalties and enforcement.

Hopeful that those problems can be resolved, the issue will again go before lawmakers. A bill from Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, focuses on texting while at the wheel.

Violators would face $250 fines or 30 days in jail, as well as a 30-day suspension of their driver’s license. Subsequent offenses would result in more severe punishment. Repeat offenders would be responsible for paying a $1,000 fine or spend 60 days in jail, as well as loss of driving privileges for 60 days and two points added to their driving record. Third offenses would result in a $2,500 fine or six months in jail, as well as a six-month license suspension and four points added to their driving record.

Harsher penalties would be handed out for texting violations that result in serious wrecks.

Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, has offered a related bill that would outlaw the use of any hand-held wireless device that could be used to talk or text. Violators would face $125 fines and two points added to their license.

Another issue is intended to encourage students to stay in school. Teens under 18 who have at least seven unexcused absences, who drop out, or who are expelled from school would be barred from obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. Affected teens already licensed would have their driving privileges suspended.

This is the second go-around for Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, on the issue. During the previous session a similar version failed to get a Senate floor vote after being approved in the House.

Included in this year’s version – H3164 – is a hardship waiver for teens to keep their driving privileges or launch an appeal if their license is yanked.

Similar laws are in place in states that include Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and West Virginia.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina, click here.

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