What is the SC DUI-E Bill?

by | Jan 9, 2019 | Auto Accidents, Legislation |

What is the SC DUI-E bill?

It is a proposed SC law called the “Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device” bill that was unsuccessfully proposed last year and has been pre-filed in the SC House again this year.

It’s got nothing to do with DUI (driving under the influence) – it’s a new texting and driving or distracted driving law that could increase the penalties for using an electronic device and that increases the number of actions that would be illegal under SC law.

What is included in the DUI-E bill and how is it different from the texting and driving laws that we already have?

What is the DUI-E Bill?

The DUI-E bill would increase the types of actions that would be illegal while driving, including:

  • Holding a phone;
  • Calling;
  • Texting;
  • Emailing;
  • Watching a video; or
  • Reaching for a phone “in an unsafe manner.”

Violations in the pre-filed version of the bill would be punishable by a $25 fine, but last year’s version included a fine of $300 for second or subsequent offenses. The amount of the fine is expected to increase, however. One of the bill’s sponsors has said, “I fully expect amendments be made to it to enhance the fines.”

What Else is Included in the DUI-E Bill?

Violations are not a criminal offense, are punishable by a fine only, and are not reported to insurance carriers.

Other details include:

  • You can use a phone with a hands-free headset;
  • You can use a phone if you are stopped on the side of the road or parked lawfully;
  • There are exceptions for first responders, utility workers, and emergency situations; and
  • Police cannot search or seize a person’s phone based on the DUI-E citation.

Why is It Called the DUI-E Bill?

The bill has nothing to do with drinking and driving, so why are they calling it the DUI-E bill?

The idea is that, if you are distracted by your phone, it can be just as dangerous as a person who is driving drunk. But do cell phones intoxicate drivers?

It is a misleading and inflammatory title. Texting while driving is not the same as drinking while driving. By putting “DUI” into the name of the proposed bill, it invokes the seriousness of driving while drunk hoping that will help the bill get passed – every legislator opposes drunk driving, right?

Doesn’t SC Already Have a Distracted Driving Law?

SC’s distracted driving law was passed in 2014 – why do we need a new one?

Most advocates for distracted driving laws don’t think the 2014 law went far enough. The 2014 law, found at SC Code Section 56-5-3890, only prohibits texting while driving whereas the new law would prohibit just about everything you can do with a cell phone including just holding the phone in your hand

The prohibited conduct under the 2014 law includes only:

(B) It is unlawful for a person to use a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways of this State.

The exceptions in the 2014 law are similar to the exceptions in the new proposed law:

(C) This section does not apply to a person who is:

(1) lawfully parked or stopped;

(2) using a hands-free wireless electronic communication device;

(3) summoning emergency assistance;

(4) transmitting or receiving data as part of a digital dispatch system;

(5) a public safety official while in the performance of the person’s official duties; or

(6) using a global positioning system device or an internal global positioning system feature or function of a wireless electronic communication device for the purpose of navigation or obtaining related traffic and road condition information.

Because the 2014 distracted driving law only prohibits texting while driving, some legislators feel that a new law is needed that will cover all of the other things people do on their cell phones while driving, most of which are just as dangerous or more dangerous than texting.

Does SC Need the DUI-E Bill?

There are benefits and drawbacks to the bill – let’s take a look at them.

Why SC Does Not Need the DUI-E Bill

It comes down to the age-old argument about how much of our freedom we are willing to give up in exchange for safety and security. Assuming that passing more extreme distracted driving laws will prevent auto accidents and make us safer on the road, is that worth passing more laws that tell SC citizens what they can do, when they can do it, and where they can do it?

Maybe our legislatures – state and federal – should begin scaling back the staggering number of criminal offenses and laws that dictate the most minute details of our lives, instead of passing more and more laws that criminalize behavior and control every aspect of citizens’ lives.

Also, consider what the law will actually be used for. To an officer on the road, every time they see a driver with a cell phone in their hand there is now a pretext to stop, question, sniff, have a look at the inside of the vehicle, and make arrests for other crimes.

Although the law says that an officer cannot seize or search a cell phone based solely on the DUI-E bill, officers will have more opportunities to invade the privacy of motorists with traffic stops. If they see or smell evidence of an additional crime (or claim that they did), they will then search the motorist’s car and make arrests.

Our state values our citizens’ privacy rights to the extent that the SC Constitution contains an additional “right to privacy” that is not provided under federal law. Should this be a consideration when passing laws that give the police greater access to our private lives and vehicles?

Why SC Needs the DUI-E Bill

Distracted driving is one major cause of auto accidents, including:

  • Texting while driving;
  • Talking on the phone while driving;
  • Using GPS on a phone while driving;
  • Checking email while driving;
  • Using social media while driving;
  • Taking selfies while driving; or
  • Using any other function on your cell phone while driving.

Although I am not convinced that the DUI-E bill, or any distracted driving law, will have an impact on the number of people using their devices as they drive, decreasing the number of people who use their phones while driving will almost certainly decrease the number of auto accidents, injuries, and deaths on the highway.

It will also make it easier to prove negligence in court – if it is established that the other driver was using their cell phone in a way that violates the distracted driving laws, that is negligence per se, which means that the driver was negligent as a matter of law and the only question remaining may be how much they should pay.

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