SD House OKs cellphone ban for young driversIn showing opposition, Rep. Stace Nelson suggests banning other teen activities, including getting bad grades and not eating broccoli.
By: Chet Brokaw , The Associated Press
PIERRE — A measure that would prohibit beginning drivers from using cellphones was approved Monday by the South Dakota House after an acrimonious debate sparked by an opponent’s suggestion that the Legislature also should ban premarital sex, provocative clothing, eating junk food and other teen activities.
Representatives voted 43-23 to pass the measure, which would ban young drivers from using cellphones or other electronic devices until they get unrestricted licenses at age 16. The bill, resurrected after being narrowly rejected by the House last week, now returns to the Senate for consideration of a change made by the House.
The ban on cellphone use by young drivers was part of a package of four bills recommended by a task force set up by Legislature to find ways to reduce teen traffic crashes and the resulting injuries and deaths. The other three bills have been rejected.
Much of Monday’s debate was spent on a proposed amendment suggested by Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, who sought language that also would have banned 14- and 15-year-old drivers from engaging in a long list of behavior that included drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, getting bad grades, failing to eat broccoli and talking back to parents and teachers. He said he proposed the language to show that law enforcement officers would also be unable to enforce a ban on cellphone use by young drivers.
“It points out the hypocrisy in this bill,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s proposed amendment failed 2-54 after other lawmakers said they were offended by Nelson’s proposal, calling it inappropriate for a bill seeking to prevent teen deaths.
“We should not stoop to that level to make a point,” said Rep. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo.
Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said Nelson’s proposed amendment turned the debate into “kind of a circus.”
When the debate focused on the bill itself, supporters said young drivers should not use cellphones because the devices increase the risk of crashes.
Opponents said there’s no proof that banning cellphones reduces crashes. Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said 33 states and the District of Columbia already ban the use of cellphones by novice drivers because inexperienced drivers are more easily distracted when they talk or text. “We’re talking about saving teens from crashes, from fatalities. These are 14- and 15-year-old children,” said Gibson, a member of the task force that recommended the bill. Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Hill City, said there’s no evidence that a ban on cellphones saves lives. “This is a feel-good bill that will not change a thing,” said Verchio said. South Dakota allows 14-year-olds to get instruction permits, the nation’s youngest age for driving while accompanied by an adult. Those young drivers can graduate to restricted permits that allow them to drive alone in the daytime after six months, or just 90 days if they have completed a driver’s education course.
Young drivers can move to unrestricted permits at age 16 if they pass a written test and a driving test.
The Legislature has rejected task force proposals that included a longer training period for beginning drivers, a plan to limit passengers in vehicles driven by young drivers, and a proposal to create a standardized statewide system for driver’s education courses.