Texting and Driving in South Carolina
With the explosion of new technology with personal electronics over the past 20 years, cell phones have become increasingly ever-present and important in our lives. Unfortunately, however, this dependence on our favorite devices often results in their being used when they should not be, such as at the dinner table, in the movie theater, and, most unfortunately, while driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving accounts for 15% of all injury-causing collisions and 8% of all traffic fatalities. In 2019, the latest year of data, 3,142 people were killed as a result of distracted driving. NHTSA also indicates that the use of a personal electronic device, such as a cell phone, while driving results in similar delays in reaction time as driving while over the legal limit of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
Texting and Driving Laws in South Carolina
Since 2014, South Carolina has outlawed texting while driving. The offense is a primary offense – meaning that law enforcement can pull you over and issue a citation; however, the specifics of the law make enforcement a problem. First, the officer must have a clear and unobstructed view of a driver’s use of a personal device enough to elicit probable cause to believe that a message is being written, sent, or read.
Unfortunately, there are other issues with the law as written in South Carolina. While the offense does carry a fine, it is only $25.00. This is one of the lowest penalties in the nation of states with similar laws. In addition, the offense is not considered a criminal penalty and is not reported to a driver’s insurance or noted on the driver’s driving record with the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.
How Does Texting and Driving Affect Personal Injury Cases?
Although it is clear that texting and driving is not only dangerous, but also directly leads to increased numbers of injury-causing collisions, South Carolina courts have yet to expand the doctrine of punitive damages to apply them to cases of collisions involving texting and driving. In addition, as the law against texting and driving is statutorily deemed not a criminal violation, the issuance of a citation for violation of the law may not rise to the common law standard of negligence per se, a legal doctrine in which a person who violates a law written to prevent the type of injury caused by that person’s violation is therefore negligently liable for those injuries.
Fortunately, however, evidence of distracted driving can be used to establish negligence in a personal injury claim. The distraction can be evidenced by the issuance of a citation under the law, as well as by telephone records or eyewitness statements. As more and more injuries are caused by distracted driving, we can only hope that penalties are increased and courts become more open to the application of punitive damages for willful and reckless behavior of driving while distracted, much like driving under the influence.
In addition to the effects of distracted driving on an at-fault driver causing a collision, it is important to remember that an injured driver’s own cell phone use during a collision can severely affect their personal injury claim. South Carolina’s negligence rules follow the doctrine of modified comparative negligence, meaning that an at-fault driver’s liability can be reduced by the injured driver’s portion of fault. This can be critical as an injured driver’s own use of a cell phone while driving can be determined much like that of the other driver and can reduce or ultimately completely negate the liability of an otherwise fully liable at-fault driver.
Contact a Skilled Lawyer Today
If you believe that you have been injured by a distracted driver, the experienced attorneys at Schiller & Hamilton Law Firm can analyze your specific case and ensure that you receive the compensation that you deserve for your injuries. Call us today for a free strategy session to review your case with one of our experienced trial attorneys.