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Standing Up Against Distracted Driving

August 28, 2012, 10:07 PM by Kellee Azar

Standing Up Against Distracted Driving

Whether it's drinking and driving or texting and driving, distractions on the road are still one of the main causes of deadly crashes.

And while many people think, "it can never happen to me," the dangers are still the same. And for one well known South Dakotan, a personal story is behind her mission to end distracted driving.

There's a growing debate in the City of Sioux Falls. When you hit the road, should you be able to face a fine if you're caught texting behind the wheel? But there's no debate about what former Miss South Dakota Loren Vaillancourt thinks. She believes distracted driving killed her 21-year-old brother while he was interning at the Fish and Wildlife Service in Huron.

"Another gentlemen and him were about a week into the internship and they were driving out in the fields to count water fowl.  And my brother had his seat belt on.  He was in the passenger's seat and the driver was somehow so distracted that they stopped at a stop sign.  But then was somehow so distracted that they proceeded to pull out in front of a semi. And because of that distraction my brother isn't here anymore," Vaillancourt said.

After the loss of her brother, Vaillancourt started dedicating a big part of her life to advocate against distracted driving. It was her platform when won the Miss South Dakota crown in 2010. Now, three years after her brother Kelson was killed, she still thinks about him all the time.

"I was actually walking through McCrory Gardens yesterday with my really good friend and it was one of my brother’s favorite places to go. I hadn't walked through it before, and everything about it reminded me of him. So if I had one day to spend, it would be whatever he wanted to do," Vaillancourt said.

And not having that chance is what makes her speak out.

"Because I went through it and I have seen the impact it has on other people's lives and it's just frustrating.  I can't tell you how many times I want to roll down my window and tell them, 'put your phone away. You don't even realize how dangerous that is,'" Vaillancourt said.

Vaillancourt hopes Sioux Falls can lead the way for South Dakota when it comes to saving lives from distracted driving.

Statewide, we've seen two texting ban bills shot down in the legislature, one in 2011 and another this year. Now a group called Citizens For Cell Phone Safety While Driving hopes the Sioux Falls City Council will pass a distracted driving ordinance.

"For all the reasons that it's the right thing to do in Sioux Falls, it's the right thing to do in South Dakota. We can only at the moment be responsible for our city, we have an opportunity to act here," Cell Phone Safety While Driving spokesperson Rich Lauer said.

Lauer hopes to see the ordinance adopted at its second reading. He says it's a proposal that's moved quickly and the support from almost all of the city council should speak for itself.

"It was only four months ago that this proposal was given to the Public Services Committee shared by Kenny Anderson  [Jr.] and the members of his committee moved ahead and prepared a full ordinance.  And to their credit it was voted 7 to 1 at the first reading to move it to a second reading," Lauer said.

And now with a final vote on the horizon, Vaillancourt hopes the city council will run distracted driving off the road.

"This is something we can prevent on the road to save lives. Not every auto accident is like that but texting and driving is. And that's truly hammering the point home that if we actually do something and stand up then these 100 percent preventable accidents may not happen and that's 100 percent worth it," Vaillancourt said.

The Sioux Falls City Council was originally set to vote on the ordinance on August 21. But the vote was postponed because not all members could be present. The vote is now rescheduled for September 4.

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