PIERRE | A ban on texting while driving in South Dakota cleared the state House of Representatives for the first time Wednesday.
“No one will have to guess in different cities what the law is,” Rep. Burt Tulson, R-Lake Norden, said.
The statewide ban would replace local bans already in effect in several South Dakota communities and Pennington County.
Cities with local bans are in violation of a 1929 state law regarding traffic regulations, according to House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, the bill’s prime sponsor.
“I know some of them don’t like that, but their fight is with the (legal) code book,” Gosch said. “You needed consistent rules as you travel across the state. Thus, that statute.”
House members approved HB 1177 on a vote of 53-17. The legislation now goes to the Senate.
Under the House bill, a law enforcement officer couldn’t stop a motorist for texting. But if the motorist was stopped for another reason, the motorist could be ticketed for texting.
That’s known as a secondary offense.
“But what’s more important: Having a ban or writing a ticket?” asked Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg.
The softer approach led Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, to relent and vote for a texting ban for the first time.
“It is a secondary offense and I’d like to have the message out there that texting is stupid,” she said.
The message that texting is illegal is what will be most important, according to Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka.
“They’ll cease and desist,” Hoffman said. He predicted fewer younger people will text and that most people will follow the law.
Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, said many more people began using seat belts after they were required, even though it’s a secondary offense.
“This is the same idea with the texting bill,” he said.
In a few years, if this doesn’t work, the Legislature can take further action, Kopp said.
Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, said the texting ban in her city is a primary offense. That means a law enforcement officer can stop a motorist seen texting. The statewide law would override that.
Hajek said she hopes an amendment will be made later to allow “home rule, local control.”
Rep. Steve Westra R-Sioux Falls, saw it another way.
“Keep in mind they put those in place because we as a body couldn’t get anything done here,” he said of the communities that passed their own ordinances.
Gosch noted that law enforcement officers “will tell you” that if they follow a driver long enough rules will be broken and the motorist can be pulled over. Then the texting ban could be enforced.
“What the rule is should be uniform across the state of South Dakota,” Gosch said.