- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina is closer to having its first statewide ban on texting while driving, a measure that would eliminate the confusion and conflicts resulting from municipalities and counties having their own separate ordinances.

The Senate voted 38-2 Wednesday in favor of a bill that would levy fines starting at $75 on drivers who text while driving and would also penalize them with points on their licenses. It also would ban drivers with a beginner’s permit or restricted license from using a cellphone.

The House later voted 97-16 in favor of a bill that would ban motorists from texting while driving and could fine them $25. But it would not place any points on the offenders’ licenses. Both bills would prohibit police from searching or confiscating cellphones. Each version will cross over to the other chamber, and each is likely to go through additional changes.

Rep. Raye Fender, R-Fort Mill, was among those dismayed at the final outcome of the House bill, whose proposed fine is equal to the penalty levied for not wearing a seatbelt. Fender said that would be little consolation to people who have lost loved ones as a result of motorists texting while driving.

But Fender defended the bill’s provision prohibiting police from confiscating cellphones to determine whether motorists were texting while driving.

“We have so much personal information obtained on our smartphones and our iPhones. We have to protect that information,” Fender said. “However, I do think that our officers do their jobs very well and if they visually viewed someone manually inputting information into a device while driving on our public highways, that would be their testimony and that’s where the guilty-versus-innocence conviction would come from.”