Mt. Pleasant PD: 1 texting-and-driving citation issued since law passed

Dave MacQueen (WCIV)

By Stacy

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- Since Mount Pleasant passed its texting and driving ban in September 2013, police said they have issued one citation.

So, we took our camera and hit the road to get the view from behind the wheel.

We headed down Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. With photojournalist Dave MacQueen in the backseat, it didn't take long to spot someone using their cellphone -- a woman with a cigarette in one hand and her phone clearly visible in the other hand.

Minutes later, another woman moved her head and eyes up and down while she drove.

And we spotted another woman holding her phone up, against her steering wheel, almost at eye level. When we moved on, she still hadn't put it down.

We spotted five people typing on their phones during one hour on Mount Pleasant's main thoroughfare. We wondered how police haven't issued more than one citation in six months.

"That surprises me too because I see a lot of people text," Mount Pleasant driver Dennis Givens said.

According to the wording of Mount Pleasant's ordinance, "officers cannot stop a person except when they have probable cause that a violation occurred based on a clear and unobstructed view of a person using a handheld communication device to compose, send or read a text-based communication."

In an email Police Chief Carl Ritchie wrote, "I would first offer this section as a possible reason for the low number of citations. My officers are not going to stop someone if they are not 100 percent sure they were texting while driving."

In other words, the ordinance wording could be a reason for the low number of citations because officers must be sure someone is texting, rather than dialing a number or doing talk-to-text.

Even we couldn't be 100-percent sure what the aforementioned people were doing on their phones while we drove down Highway 17.

Ritchie also said he believed people were following the law.

"Many of the drivers are complying with the ordinance and either waiting to text when stopped or using some type [of] voice-to-text app that so many of the phones now have," he wrote.

That rationale got mixed reviews from drivers.

"I definitely see people with a lack of attentiveness to the road, then I see a phone pop up once in a while. It's definitely something to worry about," Dakota Smith said.

Leah Thornley admitted she can't break the habit; she said she still texts and drives in Mount Pleasant.

"I haven't seen any enforcement of it yet. I don't see people being pulled over for it. I haven't been pulled over for it," Thornley said.

Ritchie said his officers would keep enforcing the ordinance as they had since September.

"If they clearly observe a violation and are 100-percent sure the violator is texting while driving they have the discretion to issue a citation. I and the Police Department fully support and enforce all ordinances passed and enacted by our Town Council and do so in a fair and consistent manner," he wrote in the email.

The city of Charleston also passed a texting-and-driving ban in October. Since then, Charleston Police has issued two citations, spokesman Charles Francis said.