We believed it was a good decision by the Pennington County Commission when it passed an ordinance last October that banned texting while driving on county roads. We noted that a texting ban on Pennington County roads when it was still legal on Rapid City streets and on state highways was confusing. We said there was a need for consistency in the state’s distracted driving laws.
Last week, lawmakers introduced a bill that would make distracted driving laws in the state conform to a single standard.
Unfortunately, state lawmakers missed the turn on the road to safe driving in South Dakota, because their proposed law, House Bill 1177, would invalidate Pennington County’s texting while driving ordinance as well as bans in seven cities in the name of conformity.
When we suggested that South Dakota needed a statewide law on cell phone use and texting while driving, we meant the state should enact a ban on the use of a mobile hand-held device while driving everywhere, not nowhere.
Can lawmakers not read a roadmap? The road to safer streets and highways includes a ban on texting and cell phones by drivers.
Forty-one states prohibit texting while driving, including North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. Accident statistics show that distracted driving endangers drivers, passengers and other drivers on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 26 percent of all fatal accidents in 2009 were caused by distracted driving, and drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to cause an accident.
We are disappointed that Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, and Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City, are cosponsors of HB 1177. Kirkeby and Gosch nonsensically told the Journal that it was better to have consistency in state laws on distracted driving.
Actually, no. It’s safer to have texting while driving bans in some places in the absence of a statewide ban than to send drivers the message that it’s OK to drive a vehicle and use a cellphone at the same time.
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender called the bill “idiotic.” "On its best day, this legislation is idiotic,” Allender said. “I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the nonsense."
Allender wrote in a Jan. 25 Journal Forum article that simply by enacting a texting while driving ban, lawmakers would prod citizens to comply with the law without the need for arrests. “Compliance is not achieved by mass arrests of the citizenry, but rather by an official communication from the government that the activity is against the law,” he wrote. “Many people will comply voluntarily.”
Likewise, if the Legislature passes a law that nullifies municipal and county ordinances against texting while driving, what message will that send to drivers?
Here’s our message to lawmakers: Turn around, HB 1177 is the wrong road to take.