FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2011 file photo, a phone is held in a car in Brunswick, Maine. Texting while driving increased 50 percent last year and two out of 10 drivers say they've sent text messages or emails while behind the wheel despite a rush by states to ban the practice, the National Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File) (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

South Carolina this week became the latest state to ban texting while driving.

Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed the measure into law Monday.

Virginia, Maryland and the District also ban texting while driving. In Virginia, it’s a primary offense, which means police can stop motorists merely for texting, without the need to observe any other infraction.  Maryland banned texting while driving several years ago and the state later prohibited all hand-held use of electronic devices. Maryland lawmakers have since approved stricter measures banning texting while driving.

Highway safety advocates have promoted these laws as tools to prevent distracted driving.  The U.S. Department of Transportation has run campaigns to deter distracted driving, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, and has encouraged states to adopt tough laws against the practices.

According to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, Washington was the first state to pass a texting ban in 2007. Similar measures have been adopted by 44 states, the District, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.