THE ISSUE: Legislating to save lives; OUR OPINION: Yes to battling DUI, texting while driving and speeding in construction zones
The headlines of late March and early April are enough to scare you off the highway. They involve accidents of just about every type on the roadways of The T&D Region.
* Two people on a moped are killed in a crash on U.S. Highway 301.
* A Cope man dies in a single-vehicle crash on rural Snake Swamp Road.
* An Orangeburg man faces felony driving-under-the-influence charges after his vehicle crashes into the back of an off-road motorcycle being ridden by a 36-year-old near the victim’s home on Banashee Circle.
Thankfully an accident of yet another type, involving a bicycle, does not claim the life of a 10-year-old hit by a car on April 2.
For yet another year, Orangeburg County continues to be very dangerous place to drive. After seeing fatalities in 2013 increase here while they were declining statewide, the county is ahead of 2013’s deadly pace in 2014.
As of April 6, the S.C. Department of Public Safety reported 10 highway deaths compared to eight a year ago for the same period. The two deaths on 301 this week bring the toll to 12. As of April 6, only heavily populated Greenville County had more deaths, at 19.
Statewide, the number of deaths is down slightly at 181 from 188. Of those, 141 died in motor vehicles, 20 were pedestrians, 13 were motorcyclists and four were on bicycles.
As much as there are plenty of laws on the books to guard the highways, including a mandate to wear seat belts, more legislation is being considered to strengthen penalties for certain behavior on the road. In light of the carnage that is all to frequent, we offer support for three present proposals to curb irresponsible driving and to save lives.
* “Peanut’s Law” would slow down drivers in highway construction zones by increasing penalties and state troopers’ presence.
Supporters told a Senate panel the measure is essential to the safety of drivers and workers in the inherently dangerous areas. The bill creates the crime of endangering a highway worker for anyone speeding or ignoring traffic signs inside construction or utility work zones. Half of the increased fines would go to the Department of Public Safety to fund troopers at the sites.
The current fine for speeding in a work zone is $75 to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. The bill would increase that to between $250 and $400 if no one’s injured, and $1,000 if injury results.
A key point of the bill is to provide a funding source for more troopers. As a highway consultant told senators, just having a patrol car or two visible in work zones will make them safer. Seeing blue lights causes drivers to slow down.
* Emma’s Law has received a lot of publicity as it obtained approval by both houses of the S.C. Legislature. A compromise version is expected to be OK’d, requiring many first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their cars.
Emma’s Law is designed to get tough on drunken drivers in a state where doing so is necessary. In 2012, 358 South Carolinians died in DUI-related accidents — meaning a small state had the seventh highest total of DUI-related deaths among the 50 states.
The interlock device, which requires drivers to blow into a miniature Breathalyzer before they are able to start their cars, is used in 21 states, including South Carolina, for repeat offenders. Emma’s Law would require the devices to be used by many first-time offenders as well.
Those with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent are considered legally intoxicated. Safety activists pushed to require first-time offenders who have a level of .12 percent or higher to install ignition interlock devices on their cars. In the end, though, the committee agreed on a level of .15.
Getting the law passed this year is good public policy.
* As locales such as Greenville pass tough ordinances against texting — and banning even talking on a cell phone — while driving, the state Legislature cannot seem to agree. It’s time to do so in the form of making a statement that texting while driving is illegal.
Enforcing the law will be difficult, as determining whether a person is texting or dialing or doing something else with a phone or other device is problematic. But the mere fact that the law states that texting and similar uses of mobile devices are illegal will deter a majority from engaging in the practices. That will save lives.
A bill presently in the House would make distracted driving a misdemeanor with a $100 fine and two points off your license. If it is found that texting led to a fatal accident, the fine could increase to $10,000 and 10 years in prison.
Proponents argue that texting while driving has become as big a problem as DUI. That is a strong case for taking action.