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South Dakota’s Proposed Texting Ban Stinks. Why Do We Need It?

Texting While Driving
Lisa F. Young/ThinkStock

I’m not typically interested in politics. The arguing that goes on with most political topics is pointless because the two sides argue as if they are going to change the other’s unchangeable mind.

To me these debates sound like this: The Democrats and Republicans are arguing about what the thing sitting outside the capitol building is called. The Democrats will try to say that the thing outside is a dog while the Republicans will insist that this thing outside is a cat. The problem never gets resolved because the thing sitting outside is actually a bird.

I’m not one to jump into the middle of South Dakota’s legislative session and pretend to be an expert on most matters they deal with. In fact, I know very little about most things they deal with.

However, I do know what a cow pie is when I see one.

House Bill 1177, the South Dakota House’s legislative attempt at a statewide texting ban, is a cow pie.

The measure, which passed the house judicial committee on Monday, stinks for three reasons. First, it makes texting while driving a secondary offense, like our so-called “required” seat belt law, you must be pulled over for something else like speeding or having a broken tail light in order to be given a ticket for texting. Sioux Falls’ texting ban, enacted in September of 2012, allows officers to pull offending drivers over just for texting.

Secondly, the fine you would have to pay for texting and driving is almost irrelevant. The Sioux Falls ban hits the wallet pretty hard with fines ranging from $95 to $200 and even up to 30 days in jail. If you are caught texting and driving under the proposed statewide law, if you actually managed to be pulled over for speeding and the officer managed to see you with your phone in your hand as you speedily whizzed by him or her, the penalty would be a measly $25.

The third problem with this bill is that it would outlaw cities and counties from passing their own texting and driving ban if it is different from the state law. Sioux Falls’ texting law is almost entirely different from the state version.

Like I said, a big steaming cow pie.

If the legislature is going to pass a bill that law enforcement can’t realistically enforce, and doesn’t give the illegal texter enough incentive to follow the law, why bother passing the law? Never mind the fact that texting bans are essentially redundant since “careless driving” is already illegal in South Dakota. As a Sioux Falls police officer told me in 2012, careless driving tickets were issued to people who were texting and driving prior to the city’s ban.

The legislature might as well ban cows from making cow pies.

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