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Vermillion Police Chief Favors Statewide Texting Ban

February 13, 2014, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

Vermillion Police Chief Favors Statewide Texting Ban

A South Dakota community that's already enforcing a citywide texting while driving ban has mixed feelings about the proposed statewide ban that's gaining momentum in the legislature. Vermillion's ban went into effect in May. Police there have been issuing tickets to violators since January. The police chief would like to see the ban extended statewide, but with some conditions.

In a college town like Vermillion, where a lot of drivers are smart phone-savvy university students, texting while driving is a hard habit to break, even when it's against the law.

"Deep down, I know it's wrong, but it doesn't stop me. Yeah, I feel bad," USD student Shayna Berke said.

Bad feelings alone won't stop drivers from texting. So Vermillion's police chief favors a statewide ban because he says it provides consistency from town to town.

"Okay, I'm driving from Yankton, it's okay for me to text in Yankton and I drive into Vermillion and now it's not okay, it may be seen that it's unfair that we can do that," Vermillion Police Chief Matt Betzen said.

The proposed statewide ban would make texting and driving a secondary offense, meaning it can't be the main reason for stopping a driver in the first place.

Betzen would like to see lawmakers come up with a final bill that gives communities like Vermillion more leeway in making texting and driving a primary offense.

"As a primary offense, there are methods we can employ to enforce it effectively. We're going to have to dig a little deeper to figure out how we're going to enforce it if it's a secondary offense,' Betzen said.

Betzen says a secondary offense would tie officers' hands because they couldn't activity look for people texting while driving. Betzen hopes by now, more texters are getting the message about the dangers, whether or not the ban expands beyond city limits.

Vermilion police ticketed at least a half dozen people for texting while driving in January. One of those tickets even resulted in a drunk driving arrest.

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