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Huron Police Chief Concerned With Texting Bill

February 14, 2014, 6:45 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Huron Police Chief Concerned With Texting Bill

Texting and driving could soon become illegal in South Dakota, but a bill which would make that happen is not sitting well with some law enforcement officers in the state.

The South Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill making texting and driving a secondary offense. That means you can't be pulled over for it, but it can be tacked on if you're pulled over for something else.

If it becomes state law, cities can't have their own distracted driving laws. That’s where Huron Police Chief Gary Will has an issue.

“If we have a local issue that needs to be worked on, we need to have the ability to do that,” Will said.

Huron already bans texting while driving. Officers can also ticket drivers in town if they’re distracted by anything else that causes them to break a traffic law. For example, a driver who runs a stop sign while reaching for a piece of pizza could get a distracted driving ticket.

According to the bill in Pierre, that law would have to go. Will says it's still needed.

Over the past two years, Huron officers have investigated more than 1,200 crashes. Will says at least a third and maybe up to half of those were caused by drivers not paying attention.

"We have a problem. We need to work on that particular problem and that's why we need the ability to deal with that by enacting our own ordinances," Will said.

Different perspectives came up when legislators debated the bill in Pierre Monday. Former Highway Patrol officer Myron Rau said that the state needs uniform traffic laws.

At the same meeting, some said tourism a big industry in South Dakota, and visitors shouldn't have to deal with different laws while traveling from city to city.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, is on the House committee which unanimously passed the bill.

"I was interested in getting something passed this legislative session rather than nothing passed," Gibson said.

Gibson says a bill probably won't survive if it allows cities to keep their own distracted driving laws and if texting behind the wheel is made a primary offense statewide.

Even though those are elements he wants to see in a state law, Will says he supports the idea of a statewide texting ban.

"The goal is to get people to change their behaviors," Will said.

Still, there are distracting behaviors, beyond texting, he'd still like to see changed in Huron.

Will also is concerned with a section of the bill that prohibits officers from confiscating people's cell phones. He says if someone is killed in a crash, officers might need the phone as evidence. After speaking with its prime sponsor, Gibson says it's not the bill's intent to interfere with an investigation like that.

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