South Dakota is one of just a few states without significant legislation to control texting and driving. Last year, legislators did pass a handheld device prohibition for drivers possessing a restricted permit (generally drivers from 14 to 16 years old), but the overwhelming majority of drivers are free to text and drive.
Is a law not needed? Are we different from other states in some way?
92% of South Dakota AAA members support a state-wide ban on texting for all drivers in South Dakota, while 72% support a ban on the use of all handheld devices while driving, except in emergency situations.
There are numerous sources documenting that a high percentage of of injury and fatal crashes are related to distracted driving (NHTSA and www.distraction.gov). It is believed that the distracted driver is 23 times more likely to cause an accident than those who are not distracted.
On average, a person sending and receiving a text message will take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. During that time, a car travelling 55 miles per hour will travel a distance greater than the length of a football field. Virtually blind. At just 30 miles per hour, the car will travel 200 feet. Imagine all that can go wrong in 200 feet.
In the United States alone, 171 billion text messages were sent each month in 2012. Obviously, many of these messages were sent and received by people behind the wheel of an automobile. This is bad because texting is worse than many other distractions – it creates a visual (eyes), manual (fingers/hand) and cognitive (mind) distraction… all while powering a two-ton machine down a public road.
I believe the evidence is clear. Distracted drivers cause traffic accidents and those accidents cause millions in property damage, as well as injuries and death to South Dakota citizens.
There have been several failed attempts to pass law in our state dealing with this issue. So why have past attempts failed? Who doesn’t want to protect from texting drivers? Can legislation be effective in protecting us?
How compliance with a new law works:
- A certain percent of the population will immediately comply with a new law.
- A certain percent will comply after learning friends and family are complying.
- A certain percent will comply once they move the decision-making process under their control (control freaks).
- A certain percent may comply after being ticketed and fined for the offense.
- A certain percent will never comply.
In the next several weeks, state legislators have the power and authority to improve public safety in South Dakota by creating a law requiring all drivers to pay more attention to driving and less attention to their electronic devices. They also have a responsibility to worry more about South Dakota citizens who will be injured or killed by distracted drivers over those who may be inconvenienced by the new law. Sometimes I think municipal, county, state and federal lawmakers try to get behind popular legislation to avoid getting any negative press or politics on them. What’s more important though, is knowing the facts and being willing to proactively protect the citizens they serve.
South Dakota needs a law that will address distracted driving generally, and not simply one prohibiting sending and receiving messages. If we focus only on texting, the following functions will still be allowed:
- Internet searches
- Playing games
- Watching videos
- Using one or more of thousands of available phone apps
A simple no-nonsense law is needed - one that will address distracted driving in the following manner:
- The law needs to be a primary offense. This means that when a police officer observes the offense being committed, they may stop and ticket the driver for that offense.
- The law should be a class two misdemeanor. This means it would be equally as serious as a speeding violation.
- It should include an element that addresses engaging in activities while driving that require a substantial amount of attention of the driver.
Admittedly, the above criteria will require law-enforcement officers to make subjective judgments in the field (which is not at all unusual). As with any other offense, if those observations or judgments are disputed, the citizen has the right to go before a judge and argue their case.
In the last couple of years the cities of Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Huron, Vermillion, Watertown, Brookings and Mitchell have taken matters into their own hands and have passed local anti-texting while driving laws. This is all well and good, but distracted driving is not a local issue, it is a state-wide issue. This checkerboard legislation demonstrates a lack of consistency and commitment by the people’s government. This dangerous behavior is outlawed in some communities but legal in others. It’s time for the state legislature to take this matter seriously and give the people what they deserve: safer streets and highways.
Distracted drivers do not discriminate between urban, rural, large or small communities. If you drive your car today, you will drive past a driver who is texting or is otherwise distracted. This puts you and every other citizen in South Dakota at risk.
Contact your legislators about this issue and help make South Dakota a safer place. http://legis.sd.gov/Legislators/Legislators/default.aspx?CurrentSession=True