NEWBERRY — The City of Newberry is considering a ban on texting while driving within the city limits after Louis Neiger addressed council Tuesday on the dangers and encouraged the panel to follow through in the event South Carolina does not pass a bill prohibiting the action.
City Manager Al Harvey told council to his knowledge there were eight or so bills floating around in Congress about texting and driving.
He said Rep. Walt McLeod had informed him that there were one or two bills that were still alive and should be debated the week of May 20.
Neiger’s passion for safety in motor vehicles emerged from the loss of his son in a wreck in 2013. Though his campaign involves banning texting while driving, an investigation into his son’s accident determined his son was not texting or on his phone at the time of his accident.
Neiger referred council to the webpage www.distraction.gov, which defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, which is included but not limited to texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, watching a video or adjusting a radio.
According to the site, an estimated 421,000 people were injured in wrecks involving a distracted driver, which was a 9 percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011.
Most accidents involved young people, with 10 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes reported as distracted at the time of a crash.
Neiger believes distracted driving is worse than drunk driving, being that at least alcoholics are attempting to focus on the road more so than someone who was distracted.
Neiger reminded council of the young woman killed last month in North Carolina as she posted onto Facebook about being happy, just seconds before her fatal accident.
“So many cities are passing laws, it just puts some pressure on the state,” said Mayor Foster Senn. “The momentum is there.”
Along with urging the city to pass the texting while driving ban, Neiger urged city employees to look into a policy about employees using their cell phones while driving.
“It would protect the city’s liability,” Harvey said.
Neiger has visited Prosperity’s Town Council, Newberry County Council, and is working to meet with Whitmire Town Council on the texting bans.
“I would like to see it all county-wide,” Neiger said.
Senate Bill 459, which bans texting while driving, is currently alive, but it mainly focuses on young people. Neiger said he is urging the House to amend that to include all ages.
Bill 4386 is being passed between the House and the Senate, he said. Both bills are being looked at by subcommittees right now. Neiger said his opinion is that the wording on Bill 4386 is good, when Senn asked for his opinion. Neiger said he has been told these are the farthest that bills of this kind have progressed.
What’s next? Harvey said Tuesday that he has been told that the county is going to hold the first two of three readings on their texting and driving ordinance, waiting for the third reading later this summer to see if the state passes any of its bills.
If the state bans texting while driving, there would be no need for the individual cities to pass these ordinances.
Harvey said he would obtain a copy of what the county planned to do for their ordinance so that the city’s could be consistent.
“I would be comfortable with that,” Senn said. “We would sure aim to have the same one.”
City Council said it would also look into amending the employee policy on cell phone use while driving. Neiger encouraged them to consider hands-free options.
In other business:
• Benji Morris was recognized for his 15 years of service with the City of Newberry. Morris went to work for the city of Newberry on April 12, 1999. He is a fire engineer.
• Harvey said the financials were on track so far. “Both revenue and expenditures are about 76 percent from this past month,” Harvey said. “There have been a few blips here and there, but nothing alarming.”
• City council approved an ordinance authorizing the selling and consuming of alcohol in Memorial Park for “A Taste of Newberry.” Assistant City Manager Matt DeWitt said the event would be similar to the setup of Irish Fling where the community would be able to consume alcohol in designated cups as they walked downtown in designated areas.
• An ordinance was approved to allow an agreement with Local Government Services LLC, which allows the city to determine if the local cable television company has complied with their payment agreement stipulated in the current franchise contract. Harvey explained that for several years the Municipal Association has had a consultant to work with municipalities to be sure they aren’t overlooking anything concerning franchise fees.
“We’re not saying anything about our company,” Harvey said. “We just want to be sure everything is on the straight and narrow and that we’re getting all of the revenue we should be getting.”
Harvey described it similar to that of an IRS audit.
• Lisa Toland from Piedmont Technical College informed council of PTC’s job and transfer fair on June 5 from 4-6 p.m. on the Newberry campus. For more information and questions, Toland can be contacted at 276-9000.