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Police issue first ticket for texting while driving

The Mitchell Police Division issued its first ever ticket for texting while driving late last month.

According to Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg, the city's first citation for texting while driving was given out on June 28. Overweg declined to reveal the identity of the motorist who was given the citation, but added six written warnings have also been handed out.

Overweg said the city's texting-while-driving ban has been effective, even if just one ticket has been issued.

"This isn't all about ticket-writing," he said. "It's about changing a culture and getting voluntary compliance."

The City Council approved the ordinance in April and the law went into effect in May. Texting while driving is now a primary offense in the city, which means law enforcement is able to stop a driver who is believed to be texting, even if no other violation is suspected to have occurred. The fine for anyone caught committing the offense is $120. Overweg said he has personally noticed more drivers pulled to the side of the road using their phone now because of the ban.

"That's exactly what we're after," he said. Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy first introduced the idea of a citywide texting-while-driving ban last September, but, after much discussion, the city chose to wait to see if the Legislature and Gov. Dennis Daugaard would approve a statewide ban.

Legislation to do that -- introduced earlier this year by state Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell -- passed in the Senate but failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Overweg said he would still like to see a statewide ban put in place.

"I think that's the way to go in the future," he said.

Eight signs warning drivers about the city's texting-while-driving ban have already been put up around Mitchell, and more signs will be put up in the future, Overweg said.

"We are not seeing as many people texting while driving as we once did," he said.

Mitchell is one of seven cities to pass a texting-while-driving ban. The other cities are Aberdeen, Brookings, Huron, Sioux Falls, Vermillion and Watertown.

The Sioux Falls Police Department has issued 20 tickets for texting while driving since the city's ban took effect in September. Sioux Falls was the first city in the state to pass a texting-while-driving ban.

Police departments in Brookings and Watertown have each given out one texting-while-driving ticket since bans in those cities took effect in January. In Huron, a texting-while-driving ban is contained in a more expansive distracted driving law. The Huron Police Department has issued six tickets for distracted driving since the law took effect in January.

The Vermillion Police Department has not issued any tickets for texting while driving but has issued several warnings since the city's ban took effect in May. In Aberdeen, no tickets have been issued because the city's texting-while-driving ban won't go into effect until July 24.