Legislators work to pass statewide texting ban

By Jordan Smith Editor-in-Chief

South Dakota legislators are working to pass a statewide texting and driving ban in both the house and senate. Each side has approved their version of the ban, however the bans do not match up.

 The House plan, HB 1177, would impose a fine of just $25 compared to the Senate’s $100 version, as stated in SB 179.

 

One similarity between the two proposed bans is that it would make texting and driving a secondary offense – meaning that drivers couldn’t be pulled over just for texting, they would have to be pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding. In Brookings, texting and driving is a primary offense and can carry a fine of $120.

 “The major difference is that both of the state bills have been changed to be a secondary offense and the ordinance is a primary offense,” Mayor Tim Reed said.

 In many cities and counties across the state, texting bans are already in place. The Brookings city ordinance bans the use of any handheld device to send or receive any communication while driving. There is an exception for the use of GPS or navigation, according to Brookings Police Officer Dustin Honkamp.

 About a half dozen citations have been given and around 40 to 60 warnings have been written since the ordinance went into effect January of 2013. 

 “The Brookings Police Department has been looking for voluntary compliance,” Honkamp said. “We want people to learn from the one time they get pulled over and get a citation or warning.”

 The South Dakota Police Chiefs’ Association is not in support of the texting and driving bans being proposed by the state. According to Honkamp, the biggest concern with the proposed bans is that the new laws would make texting and driving a secondary offense.

 “If [texting and driving] is made a secondary offense, that says to drivers that it is not important and the safety of others is not a dire emergency,” Honkamp said.

 “By looking at simple statistics of distracted driving, texting and driving is one of the main reasons for many accidents,” 

 

Cities across the state also have concerns about a statewide ban, according to Reed. If the current version of HB 1177 passes, texting and driving will become a secondary offense and carry a $25 fine statewide. This bill would also override current city bans. SB 179 would also make texting and driving a secondary offense and carry a $100 fine, but allow for current bans to remain as is. 

 “The issue that the cities in general have is that [a statewide ban] takes away the local control,” Reed said.

 One of the bills may allow Brookings to strengthen the law that is in place. At that time the new law is passed, the city would review and decide to keep the current law on the books, or align it with the state law. Before any changes are made, the city will wait until the final texting and driving ban has made it through to the point where the governor signs it as law. The city would then act knowing that whatever ban is made law would go into effect July 1.

 “We will review the whole situation based on what the state decides,” Reed said.

 Whatever happens, local officials view a ban on texting and driving a necessary law.

 “I am happy as a city that we did put into effect an ordinance to ban texting and were ahead of the curve,” Reed said. “The state realized it had to do something, I think that’s important.”