SD House committee says no to text ban for driversThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 15 people die every day on the nation’s roads in crashes caused by texting.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A South Dakota House committee Wednesday rejected a measure to ban texting while driving after lawmakers said they doubted a ban would be enforceable or do much to improve highway safety.
The State Affairs Committee voted 10-3 to kill the measure, which would have prohibited use of cellphones and other handheld devices to write, send or read text-based communications while driving. It would not have banned talking on cellphones or using hands-free devices for texting while behind the wheel.
Lobbyists for the health care, transportation and insurance industries urged the panel to pass the bill, and no one testified against the proposal during the committee hearing. But lawmakers said they are not ready to ban texting because law officers would have a difficult time determining whether drivers were texting or just dialing a number for a voice call.
With a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a fine of $500 for a conviction, many people arrested for texting while driving would contest cases in court, said Rep. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls.
“I can see courts being tied down and jammed with trials,” Abdallah said.
The measure’s main sponsor, Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, said he believes texting diverts a driver’s attention more than talking on a cellphone.
“Public safety should trump the freedom of the individual in this area of behavior,” Bolin said.
A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was defeated by a House panel.
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and Washington, D.C., ban handheld cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers.
The federal government has banned texting while driving and all hand-held cellphone use for commercial truck and bus drivers.
Dick Tieszen of Pierre, a lobbyist for State Farm Insurance, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 15 people die every day on the nation’s roads in crashes caused by texting. Drivers who read or send texts have their minds, eyes and hands diverted from the task of driving, he said.
“That means we are completely checked out of whatever else we’re doing. That’s the problem with distracted driving,” Tieszen said.
Officials from the South Dakota State Medical Association, South Dakota Nurses Association and organizations representing hospitals and nursing homes also supported the measure.
But Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies across the nation, issued a study last year that found there is no evidence banning cellphone use or texting have reduced texting.
South Dakota’s reckless driving law also essentially bans distracted driving, Gosch said.
The reckless driving law generally outlaws careless driving without using appropriate caution.
Other lawmakers said they believe law officers would have trouble enforcing a texting ban, so many drivers would continue texting even if the bill passed.
However, Sen. Eldon Nygaard, R-Vermillion, said about 80 percent of drivers would not text just because they abide by all laws.
“We could save a lot of lives,” Nygaard said.