Texting ban passes SD Senate
PIERRE -- State senators agreed Friday that South Dakota should ban texting while driving a motor vehicle.
Both sides of the Legislature now have approved their versions of texting bans. Work remains, however, because the two don't match.
Senators voted 26-7 for its version from Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. Vehle softened his legislation to generally correspond to the House version from Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City.
Both versions would make texting while driving a secondary offense. That means a law enforcement officer couldn't stop a motorist solely for texting and would need another reason.
Vehle originally wanted it to be a primary offense so that motorists could be pulled over for texting.
"But you've got to start somewhere," Vehle said.
The House approved Gosch's bill Feb. 12 on a 53-17 vote. It would make the Legislature "the exclusive regulator" of distracted driving and use of electronic wireless devices in motor vehicles.
Vehle's version is silent on that point. That led Sen. Tom Jones, D-Viborg, to ask Vehle what happens to the local bans passed in eight communities, including Mitchell.
"That is going to be up to the court to make that decision," Vehle replied.
Both versions make a violation a petty offense. Normally a petty offense carries a $25 fine. Vehle's version calls for a $100 fine.
Jones and Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, said they agree with prohibiting texting while driving but want bigger penalties. Both voted against Vehle's bill.
Omdahl praised Vehle for his persistence. "It is a serious issue," Omdahl said.
Last year, the Senate approved Vehle's bill that made texting a primary offense. The House rejected it.
Thirty-seven states have laws banning texting while driving as a primary offense, and four states make it a secondary offense, according to Vehle.
"So how do you make the culture shift? You pass a law. That's how you start it. We did it with seat belts. We did it with drinking and driving," Vehle said.