PIERRE | Driver’s education would return to South Dakota schools and significant new restrictions would be placed on 14- and 15-year-old drivers under a package of changes approved Wednesday by the Senate.
The four pieces of legislation now move to the House of Representatives, where passage could be more difficult.
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, led the way in getting the package through the Senate. He was chairman of the state’s teen-driving task force last year.
Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, praised Tieszen’s efforts and the task force’s recommendations.
“They’re not easy. Some of them weren’t easy votes for us. Some of them may be in trouble when they get over to the House,” Lucas said.
Twenty senators voted against at least one or more of the bills. Three Republicans — Ried Holien of Watertown, Ryan Maher of Isabel and Deb Peters of Hartford — voted against all four.
The first bill debated Wednesday would extend the time that a young driver holds an instruction permit. It was approved 21-14 on a revote after the recording machine lost the first record.
Currently, a driver must have an instruction permit for at least 180 days before graduating to a restricted permit. The legislation would lengthen that period to 270 days if the license holder successfully completes a driver education course, and 365 days otherwise.
Tieszen said the statistics support having teen drivers spend more learning time on the road.
The second bill would prohibit 14- and 15-year-old drivers from using wireless communication devices. It passed 26-9.
“I think we’re well aware of this issue in our society,” Tieszen said.
Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, questioned how a law enforcement officer would be able to distinguish the age of a driver before making the traffic stop.
Peters joined Brown’s opposition. She said having the teen’s phone in operation can be helpful for a parent.
Peters said there are applications for mobile phones that can be used for sending emergency alerts, monitoring speed, tracking geographic location and knowing if the teen is out after curfew.
But Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth said the wireless restriction makes sense as a way to reduce distractions for the young drivers. “For them, driving isn’t a right. It’s a privilege,” Olson said.
A third restriction would limit the passengers in a vehicle operated by a driver with a restricted permit.
Only one passenger could be with a driver who is 14 or 15 unless the passengers are family members or members of the household, or if the driver is on the way to or from school or a school event.
Statistics show increasingly higher rates of accidents when young drivers have more than one passenger.
“It’s really profound,” Tieszen said.
No one spoke against SB107, but it passed without a vote to spare. Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, cast the vote that broke the 17-17 tie.
Even the driver’s education bill drew opposition, passing 30-5. The Department of Public Safety would be directed to design driver education programs, models of instruction, testing, standard training and the requirements for instructors. The Department of Education also would be involved.
A state coordinator would be created within the Department of Public Safety.