With similar texting-while-driving bans passed by both the South Dakota Senate and House of Representatives, the casual observer might believe a statewide texting-while-driving ban will soon be the law in South Dakota, said Sen. Craig Tieszen of Rapid City at a crackerbarrel public forum held Feb. 22 in Rapid City.
"You might believe we are about to have a texting ban in South Dakota," Tieszen said before warning that plenty of pitfalls lie ahead for the would-be bill, which Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he would sign.
A handful of audience members brought the issue up at different times during the two-hour forum, held at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
"There are sponsors of a ban in South Dakota that really don't want to have a texting ban, but they are under pressure from the public and have brought a ban without really a penalty, and they don't allow local government to do anything about it," Tieszen said, without naming Rep. Brian Gosch of Rapid City who is the prime sponsor of HB1177.
Tieszen has long supported a law against texting while driving that would make the act a so-called "primary offense," meaning a law enforcement officer could pull a motorist over if that behavior is observed. Both HB1177 and SB179 would make the act a "secondary offense," meaning drivers could be cited for it only if they have been pulled over for another reason.
Rep. Lance Russell of Hot Springs said he opposes making the act a primary offense.
"All of a sudden they've got reasonable suspicion to stop you. Let's say it's dark and you've got a couple people in front of vehicle. Law enforcement alight coming from that front seat, all of sudden you've got reasonable suspicion to make stop of a vehicle," Russell said. "This vastly expands the government's authority to make those types of stops. Any time you have anything in your hands, government will be able to stop you and interfere with what you're doing. We're creating a whole new area of government intervention when they don't necessarily need that addtitional authority to do their jobs."
Russell said existing careless driving and reckless driving statutes allow officers to pull drivers over for various reasons.
Several legislators with varying positions on the issue agreed that a law, however weak, would decrease texting-while-driving.
"Whena texting ban passes, even a most minimal ban, most people will quit doing it because it's against the law. Another 20-30 percent that will quit doing it most of the time, like speeding. Some people get outside the limits more than others," Tieszen said. "Then there is a small portion that aren't going to change. I'm getting to believe it is sort of an addictive behavior to have that little machine in your hands all the time."
"Education was most important thing. Once they knew there was a law, most people are law-abiding citizens and will follow the law," said Rep. Don Kopp of Rapid City, referencing a State Farm study of the issue.
Referencing the same study, Kopp said the evidence does not support passing a law as a way to reduce texting while driving.
"The scientific evidence presented doesn't really support the idea that laws against texting save lives and reduce accidents," he said. "Once the law is passed people who text, the idea is they're still going to text. Rather than have it up on the steering wheel where they can kind of see where they're going, they're going to hold it down in their lap where it can't be seen."
Kopp said the data shows that states that have passed texting-while-driving bans have had a slight increase in accidents or have shown no change.
Now that both chambers have passed a ban, a conference committee will be appointed to try to reconcile the differences between the two bills. If that can be done, then the House and Senate would again vote on any changes made to the bills.
Read more about the texting issue in the Black Hills Knowledge Network archives.