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Pennington County joined several East River communities and 41 states Tuesday when commissioners approved an ordinance that levels a $200 fine on anyone caught texting while driving.

A violation will fall under a nuisance ordinance and only be enforceable on county roads. Nonetheless, the commissioners who voted for the measure Tuesday say it sends an important message to drivers and state lawmakers.

"I think that we need a texting law in Rapid City. I think we need one in the state of South Dakota," said Commissioner Ron Buskerud, who proposed the ban this summer.

In addition to Buskerud, commissioners Ken Davis, Lyndell Peterson and Nancy Trautman voted to add the texting while driving ban to the county's nuisance ordinance. Commissioner Don Holloway did not attend the meeting.

While enforcing the ban could prove challenging for the Pennington County Sheriff's Office, Commission Chairman Peterson said it gives law enforcement a tool that it needs and highlights the public's concern about texting and driving.

Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo, Sheriff Ken Thom and Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said they had questions on how the law would be enforced and where.

"It's checkerboard rule making that's confusing to me," Allender said when he learned of the commission's vote.

"It should be addressed on a statewide basis or not addressed on a statewide basis," Thom said.

Vargo said municipalities have law-making authority within their boundaries, but he's not sure how the texting ban will be enforced in communities that have law enforcement contracts with the sheriff's office.

"There are definitely some things to sort out . . . more importantly the ability to notice it and charge it," he said.

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Buskerud said, however, that making the ban part of the county's nuisance ordinance was the only way the county could make a statement about the hazards of texting and driving.

 "For whatever reason, our council members and our legislators haven't quite decided that we need one yet, he said.

Vargo acknowledged, however, that the ban will send a signal to drivers that texting while driving creates a hazard.

"Hopefully at the very least, it can be a reminder to people just how dangerous it is to be participating in that. If it has even that effect, it is a positive step," he said.

Previously, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Brookings, Huron and Vermillion passed texting while driving bans. Nationally, 41 states have texting while driving bans, including North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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