OUR VIEW: Unite behind state textingban and work to strengthen it
Take heart, Mitchellites. Your city's texting-while-driving ban may soon be replaced with a weaker statewide ban, but all is not lost.
We, like many in Mitchell, have watched with fascination these past several years as the march toward a texting-while-driving ban progressed. Mitchell has been at the center of the debate, largely because of a 2010 traffic accident that resulted in the death of rural Mitchell resident Jon Christensen. The motorcycle he was driving was struck from behind by a pickup in a construction zone. The pickup driver, Justin Iburg, later admitted he had been reading a text message.
State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, took on the issue and began working toward a statewide ban on texting while driving. Christensen's widow, Janean, and even Iburg himself supported the passage of such legislation. But for several years, the legislation failed.
In the meantime, the Mitchell City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Ken Tracy, passed a city-level ban.
Lawmakers finally passed a statewide ban during the recently concluded 2014 legislative session. It wasn't exactly the legislation that Vehle and others wanted, but it was the result of a compromise, as is a lot of successful legislation.
The problem now facing the city of Mitchell is that its ban doesn't match the state ban. Whereas the city ban, for example, is a primary offense (meaning a driver can be pulled over for texting even if no other offense occurs), the state ban is a secondary offense (meaning a driver has to have committed some other primary offense before being ticketed for texting). The city's fine is $120. The state's fine is $100.
Monday night, the Mitchell City Council took the first step toward repealing its ban. We like the city's ban better, but repealing it is probably wise. State laws take precedence over city laws, and it would be a waste of time and money to get caught up in a lawsuit defending the city's ban against the state's.
Jon Christensen's death was enough to convince us and many others that texting while driving is deadly and should be illegal. We wanted a statewide ban, and when the state's ban takes effect in July, we'll have our wish.
We should now unite behind the state's ban and work to strengthen it rather than quibble over its differences with our city ban.