Your Guide to South Carolina's Distracted Driving Laws
(It's more than just not texting.)
Jessica Huneck|February 27, 2020
There are roughly 140,000 car accidents every year in South Carolina. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The state of South Carolina defines distracted driving as “an activity that diverts a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. These types of distractions include: texting, using a cell phone, eating, and grooming – among others.”
The state warns that “all distractions endanger drivers, passengers, and bystander safety,” so it's best to avoid or limit all distractions when possible.
Laws in this state are currently focused primarily on reducing the number of distractions caused by texting while driving, but as we mentioned, distracted driving means more than just sending text messages to your BFF.
Distracted Driving Statistics in South Carolina
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in South Carolina:
Distracted driving was responsible for 10,053 collisions in SC in 2017. Of these:
7,483 involved property damage only
2,370 resulted in significant injuries
9 caused fatalities
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranks South Carolina among the states with the worst drivers in the country.
A recent survey found that 91% of millennials admit to using cell phones while driving.
Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in South Carolina
Distracted driving is the 5th most common cause of driver-error accidents in this state. In fact, it's responsible for about twice as many accidents as drunk driving!
Does South Carolina Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
However, when it comes to distracted driving laws, South Carolina is a bit late to the game. The first law banning texting while driving didn't go into effect until 2014; and despite several attempts to pass a law banning the use of handheld devices while driving, it's still legal in the state.
Currently, South Carolina has only one prohibition:
Reading, writing, and sending text messages or emails is prohibited for all drivers.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in South Carolina?
Texting is permitted when the driver is:
lawfully parked or stopped
using hands-free voice-to-text technology
summoning emergency assistance
transmitting or receiving data as part of a digital dispatch system
performing official duties as a public safety official
using a GPS or other navigational system or obtaining related traffic or road condition information
South Carolina Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in South Carolina?
Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a handheld cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard and should be avoided.
So, what happens if a police officer in South Carolina sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically states you can't eat while driving in this state.
But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can really increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, and these are actions that can earn you a citation.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’d probably be better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
South Carolina uses primary enforcement.
This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while texting or talking on a handheld cell phone, a police officer who sees you can pull you over and write up a citation for violating the state’s distracted driving laws.
But officers in this state may not “seize, search, view, or require the forfeiture” of your wireless communication device.
What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in South Carolina?
If you get a ticket for violating South Carolina’s distracted driving laws, you'll be stuck with a fine of $25.
This state's penalty for distracted driving pales in comparison with most other states. In Georgia, a first offense will get you a $50 ticket, while a third offense will cost you $150. And in North Carolina, a first offense will cost you $100.
Local lawmakers have so far been unsuccessful in attempts to raise the fine for violations of this state’s distracted driving laws. As a result, many South Carolina residents don't take the law very seriously.
South Carolina compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona; however, in 2021, Arizona will roll out new cell phone restriction laws, leaving Montana the last in line.
Does a Distracted Driving Citation Increase Insurance Rates?
If you're cited for distracted driving in South Carolina, there's a good chance your insurance carrier won't be told about it. But if your distracted driving led to an accident or a moving violation, it will be reported and your rates will almost certainly go up.
Your rate increase depends on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In South Carolina, reported distracted driving citations cause rates to go up an average of $283 a year. So make sure you ask yourself whether that text message is really worth it.
And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to the lower rates it brings you. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, so if you drive into a neighboring state with different laws, you better follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.
The bordering states of North Carolina and Georgia both restrict the use of all cell phones (even in hands-free mode) for drivers under 18. This means if your teen drives over the border while talking on the phone, they'll be in violation of the law and may be ticketed.
And in nearby Tennessee, handheld cell phones are prohibited for all drivers. This means if you're holding a phone to your ear as you drive into that state, you'll be in violation of their laws and could face a fine of $50 for a first violation.
What's South Carolina Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?
Some lawmakers in this state, such as Rep. Bill Taylor and State Sen. Tom Young, are continuing the fight to make the use of handheld cell phones illegal while driving, but they're facing tough opposition.
Also, bills that hope to significantly increase the penalty for a distracted driving violation have been introduced in recent years, but have so far fallen flat.
In the meantime, the state is hoping that distracted driving awareness campaigns and education in the schools will help to alleviate the high number of accidents caused by driver distractions in this state.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.