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County Council, April 4

No enthusiasm to ban texting while driving
To request the State to address the issue
Warwick Jones

Council member Qualey wanted to start “conversation” about banning texting while driving. Accordingly, it was placed on the agenda for last night’s Finance Committee meeting. The item certainly stimulated conversation. But that may be all it stimulated. At the conclusion of the “conversation”, staff was tasked with drawing up a resolution to be sent to the state, asking it to address the issue of texting while driving. Judging from the range of Council member views, it seems the resolution can request little else and have the support of full Council.

Council member Qualey spoke first to the issue. He spoke of the danger of texting while driving and acknowledged that the state was looking at the issue but no resolution was expected soon. He also noted that Beaufort has initiated a ban and suggested the County seek information to use as a possible “template”. Council member Condon was the first to follow and raised the question as to how would any ban on texting be enforced. She also asked Assistant Sheriff Lucas as to his view. He said that there was no law against texting while driving. And there was no way a charge could be brought unless there was a violation in existing law such as crossing lanes. He noted that there was a law against “driving too fast for existing conditions”. This could be applied even if the “texter” was driving below the existing speed limit. It would be argued that the concentration on texting created a danger at the speed the vehicle was travelling. He also noted problems in enforcing a ban. A “texter” could claim that he was simply looking for say messages on his phone and this would be hard to disprove.

Judging from the subsequent conversation, we don’t think any Council member favored a move by the County to impose the texting ban. Probably all saw the merit in such a ban but some Council members - Condon, Summey and Rawl - thought it would be difficult or impossible to enforce. In consequence, no attempt should be made to introduce it. Council member Schweers felt uncomfortable dealing with the issue though he clearly had sympathy with the idea. He thought it was a state matter, not a County matter. And if the State were to legislate to ban texting while driving, he would support it. Council members Summey, Sass and Qualey agreed that the state should take the initiative in the issue. In consequence, Chairman Pryor suggested that a resolution be sent to the state and staff was tasked to find the language.

We suspect there will be more “conversation” over the content of the resolution when it comes back for Council approval. Council member Darby indicated last night that he was opposed to the resolution. And we suspect other Council members will be too if the resolution is very demanding.

*******

Council member Johnson gave a brief update on progress in the Solid Waste program. It was hard for us to grasp some of the figures and put them into a context. It seemed hard for some Council members too who asked a number of questions. It was resolved by the commitment of the Council member to give a full presentation at a future Finance Committee meeting.

Council member Johnson noted that the Solid Waste budget had fallen from nearly $40 million in FY 2008 to $28.5 million last fiscal year. As pointed out by another Councilmember, this was not quite as good as it seemed because the saving was largely offset by a fall in revenue with the cessation of the contract with the navy following the closure of the incinerator. Amongst other things, she noted that:

  • Through operational efficiencies, program improvement and best management practices, the Environmental Management Department has increase recycling in the County from 8% to 25% in 2 years.

  • Since the County negotiated the solid waste transfer and disposal contracts, the County has saved about $2 million a year compared with the cost to incinerate.

  • Since the County privatized the Materials Recovery Facility, $1.6 million in annual operating cost has been eliminated and $2.3 million received in revenue in the first year.

  • The County now processes 100% of yard waste.

  • The County is providing Single Steam residential collection service to about 50,000 homes. It will be extended to another 25,000 homes by June this year.

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