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MERCER: Help drive a trend: Turn off the phone while at the wheel

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PIERRE -- I often turn off my cell phone for hours at a time. I often don't take it with me around town. Seldom do I text. I have no apps.

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I once put a friend's phone number in its memory. He now has a different number.

But when I travel outside Pierre, I take my cell phone.

That's why I truly fear -- and support -- South Dakota's texting ban that takes effect July 1.

There I was, pushing up against the speed limit on Interstate 29 out of Fargo on a pouring-rain Sunday morning two weekends ago, and I was getting texts from home.

The windshield wipers could barely keep pace. There was no one ahead of me, and no one behind me, that I could see.

So I took a few quick looks at my phone. And I texted back a few times.

All the while I wondered whether North Dakota had a texting ban.

The previous day, after wandering around Moorhead, Minn., for the better part of an hour, I texted to ask for directions.

I couldn't find the baseball diamond where our Pierre Post 8 American Legion team would be playing Bismarck's team that Saturday morning.

I wondered whether Moorhead had a texting ordinance, and whether Minnesota had a state ban.

I didn't want to be breaking the law. So, not knowing for certain whether I was or wasn't, I sent a text.

In a few minutes came the directions. They guided me to exactly where I wanted to be.

The month before, on Mother's Day, we went to see the Milwaukee Brewers host the New York Yankees. As we left the parking lot, a massive storm broke out. Traffic forced us into a neighborhood.

Our son used his phone to get directions as I drove. He told me where to go. I made a few errors, but we figured our way out.

About 10 years ago, I was talking on my cell phone as I drove home to Pierre from Huron. As I pulled onto U.S. 281 at the Wolsey corner, I saw in my mirror a big pickup suddenly on my tail.

The truck followed close all the way to Wolsey. I tried slowing down but the truck wouldn't pass. In Wolsey I turned onto a side street and the truck followed. I made another turn and the truck still followed. I doubled back and eventually the truck gave up.

I don't know what caused all of that -- unless I had unknowingly pulled in front of the truck getting onto 281 while I was talking on the phone.

That incident led me to stop having long conversations on the phone while I drove.

Four years ago, the blow-up over Kristi Noem's many speeding tickets led me to quit speeding. I wasn't a big speeder, but I sometimes pushed it. I decided to start leaving 15 minutes earlier.

Life became smoother.

There is a billboard at the west edge of Mitchell that advises texting is banned there. We need signs throughout South Dakota now.

And I resolve to leave my phone off while driving.

Join me.

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