SD's biggest city bans texting while driving

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Posted: Sep 06, 2012 11:01 AM
SD's biggest city bans texting while driving

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's biggest city has banned texting while driving, a move some hope will spread to other cities or boost the chances of a statewide ban on what they see as a dangerous practice.

The Sioux Falls City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to make it a crime to send and receive electronic messages while operating a vehicle within city limits. The ordinance will take effect on Sept. 28 and will be punishable by a fine of up to $200 and 30 days in jail. It still will be legal to make hand-held phone calls, use GPS navigation and use hands-free devices.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said it could persuade more state lawmakers to consider a statewide ban, which the Legislature defeated in the past two years after opponents said they doubted it would be enforceable or do much to improve highway safety.

A statewide ban makes more sense than multiple city bans because drivers would know they could not text no matter where they are, he said.

"I think it will add some momentum to what will certainly be attempts in the next Legislature to pass a statewide ban," Tieszen said of the Sioux Falls measure.

Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel said officers would not make a traffic stop if they cannot see a handheld device and erratic driving, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported (http://argusne.ws/OaOYoQ). A cellphone could be seized to check its records as proof a driver was texting, but that would only be done in extreme circumstances, such as a severe traffic crash, he said.

Thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands have banned text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Tieszen and Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, sponsors of the measures defeated by the Legislature, said the fate of a texting ban in the 2013 legislative session depends on who is elected in November.

Bolin, a retired teacher, and Tieszen, a retired police chief, said they believe the public supports a ban on texting while driving.

"It's an issue where public safety trumps individual rights and individual freedoms that are very, very passionately held to her in South Dakota," Bolin said.

Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, said she doubts the Sioux Falls ban will have much effect on the Legislature, because many lawmakers believe a ban on texting would be ineffective and difficult to enforce.

"I really don't think we need a law against everything," Olson said. "Yes, texting and driving is stupid, but so are a lot of other things people do when driving."

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has stayed out of the debate.

"The governor has no position on it at this moment," press secretary Joe Kafka said.

Lee Axdahl, state director of highway safety, said a task force studying teen driving safety is considering recommending a ban on texting while driving by young people. The agency is trying to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving overall, he said.

While Sioux Falls is the first South Dakota city to ban texting while driving, officials in other cities have said they might try to follow Sioux Falls' lead.

Aberdeen City Attorney Adam Altman said he and Police Chief Don E. Lanpher Jr. proposed a city ban on texting and using all handheld devices while driving in in 2008, but the city council quickly scrapped the idea after getting a barrage of email messages from constituents who opposed the idea. He said they'll probably ask the council to take another look.

"I think the police chief and I both continue to believe it's a public safety matter," Altman said.

Rapid City Alderman Ron Sasso said he is unlikely to suggest a similar ban in South Dakota's second largest city, because people are apprehensive about anything that restricts their actions. However, he believes the Legislature should pass a ban on texting for drivers 18 and younger.

Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said he believes a law banning all use of hand-held devices while driving will inevitably pass.

"A perfect-world scenario would be if we're going to tackle the problem on a statewide level that we could tackle the whole problem and not just a little segmented part of the problem," Allender said.