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Hands-free driving bill passes the South Carolina Senate

If the bill becomes law, South Carolina would become the 25th state to prohibit holding a phone while driving.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A bill to intended to limit distracted driving in South Carolina has passed the South Carolina Senate. The hands-free driving bill could make it illegal for people to hold their phones while driving. 

Advocates for the bill, like Kelly Willenberg, said it could help save lives. She knows the consequences of distracted driving all too well; her husband Dale Willenberg was killed because of it. 

Dale was an avid cyclist. "He was a marathon runner and did cycling events all over the country, and he was an active duty military nurse,” explained Kelly.

As a nurse at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, he biked to work every day. “He was more comfortable on a bike. He called it his mental health time,” Kelly shared.

However, June 29, 2017 would be Dale's last ride. 

A driver hit him on the way to work and he died at the hospital the next day. “He did turn himself in," Kelly said about the driver. "That's where we discovered that he had inadvertently looked at his phone, and it took mere seconds on a bright sunny day for an accident to happen.”

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Kelly and their two children feel the void where Dale once stood every day. “You have to learn how to keep moving forward because that's what Dale would have wanted. But it's very hard when your entire life turns upside down,” Kelly admitted.

Since Dale died, Kelly has been raising awareness on distracted driving. She supports South Carolina’s hands-free bill as a start to saving lives. “I just think that people need to understand how it can impact you if it happens to you and your family. The next person hit could be someone you love,” said Kelly.

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The bill would make it illegal to hold a phone while driving, but certain functions would still be allowed like unlocking a device or starting navigation as long as it’s hands free.

The bill passed the Senate Thursday, February 24. Three senators voted against it, including Senator Stephen Goldfinch, (R) Georgetown.

"It’s just another bit of government getting into the middle of our cars, when we need to enforce the laws we have if we want to fix the problem we have,” Goldfinch told News19.

Goldfinch said he's concerned about passing another distracted driving law when he thinks South Carolina’s current ones aren’t enforced.

“I’ve asked multiple times; how many convictions have there been on the "no texting while driving" statute? I haven’t gotten an answer to that. I suspect the answer is almost none, which is a problem to me,” asserted Goldfinch.

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The hands-free rule would not apply to drivers when they’re parked or stopped. It also exempts first responders while working. 

If the bill becomes law, police will issue warnings for violations in the first 90 days. After that, the first offense would be a $100 fine. The second offense is a $200 fine and two points on a driving record.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states and Washington D.C. have laws banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.