House approves toughened texting ban

PIERRE – The S.D. House has agreed to toughen and broaden the state’s ban on texting while driving.

The House approved HB1169 on a vote of 42-26. It now goes to the Senate. 

The bill would make it a primary offense to use a phone while driving for texting, social media, photography or watching movies. Currently texting while driving is a secondary offense. A driver must be stopped for another infraction before a ticket can be issued for texting.

There are exceptions in the bill for phone use like making calls and using a GPS. A driver could key in a phone number without running afoul of the HB1169.

On Wednesday afternoon the House galleries were packed with government students from high schools across the state. Realizing their interest in the subject, the bill was moved to the top of the House agenda. 

Rep. Doug Barthel, R-Sioux Falls, said some cities in the state already have tougher bans on texting while driving. 

“This bill would bring consistency across the state,” Barthel said, noting that as a primary offense, the cost of a ticket would go from $100 to $122. “The intent of this is not to write a ton of tickets.”

How people would be ticketed was on the minds of some legislators. Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, said such a stop by a patrolman would take away his presumption of innocence. 

“It’s now a presumption of guilt,” Gosch said, as he would have to prove to the officer that he was putting in a phone number. 

Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen, said the passage of the law would have unintended consequences as people would hold their phones even lower to text. Their attempts to avoid detection would increase their chance of being in an accident, Dennert said. 

Rep. Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, said 80% of people comply with traffic laws. “It will help keep all of us safer,” Smith said. 

There’s a law on the books, Dennert said, and people are still texting and driving. “In theory, we should already be at 80% (compliance).”

Rep. Steven McCleerey, D-Sisseton, looked up at the students in the gallery, asking them if chance of taking a life is really worth finishing a sentence in a text. “It’s your generation that’s going to change this,” McCleerey told them. 

Rep. Timothy Goodwin, R-Rapid City, asked if reckless drivers would heed the new law. 

“Just because we pass this doesn’t mean it’s going to end,” Goodwin said. 


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