S.D. Senate gives green light to broader ban against electronic devices while driving

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Texting and Driving

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Most drivers in South Dakota could soon be prohibited from using mobile electronic devices while operating motor vehicles, under legislation that got final approval Wednesday.

The state Senate voted 24-11 for HB 1169. Next stop is Governor Kristi Noem to decide whether it becomes law July 1.

There would be exceptions for a variety of first responders and utility workers while on the job, and for various situations, from calling in emergencies and checking GPS, to typing in phone numbers.

Texting while driving is already illegal in South Dakota. But the current ban has rarely been enforced, because it’s a secondary offense. That means law enforcement must have a different reason to stop a vehicle.

The new legislation would add many activities to the prohibited list, including social-networking sites.

A similar attempt last year fell short 17-17 in the Senate.

The 2020 bill would make a violation a misdemeanor, up from a petty offense. The fine would go up somewhat too, to about $122 from the current $100, according to Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican.

She told senators that violators won’t be put in jail.

Representative Doug Barthel, a Sioux Falls Republican and a past police chief for the city, is the bill’s prime sponsor. The House approved it 42-26 on February 19.

Barthel and Soholt sponsored the bill last year too. She said they didn’t plan to bring it back until Barthel received a phone call from a couple about the death of their son, who drove into the back of a grain truck on US 12 while taking a photograph with his cell phone.

“It’s time now to have our laws reflect the consistency of safety, of telling people we all need to be in this together,” Soholt said.

Senator Jeff Partridge, a Rapid City Republican, switched from a no last year to a yes this year because the legislation now has exceptions for voice-activated text and commands.

“That makes this bill different than last year,” Partridge said.

Senator Jessica Castleberry, a Rapid City Republican, was the only opponent to speak against it during the debate. She said that she was repeatedly stopped as a blond teenager driving a red convertible.

“I became quickly disillusioned with profiling. Many times I was pulled over with the phrase, ‘Excuse me, I thought I saw –,'” Castleberry said.

A combination of resignations by Justin Cronin, Lynne DiSanto and Stace Nelson, who voted against last year’s version, and switches to yes by Gary Cammack, Brock Greenfield, Jeff Monroe and Partridge made the difference this year.

Soholt cited a national study that said 92 percent of motorists used their cell phones while driving and 71 percent sent text messages.

“This is a new culture. This is a new way of being within our world. Our phones are an extension of our thoughts,” she said.

Here’s how senators voted Wednesday:

Yes — Rocky Blare, R-Ideal. Jim Bolin, R-Canton. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish. Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. Troy Heinert, D-Mission. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton. John Lake, R-Gettysburg. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion. Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland. V.J. Smith, R-Brookings. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls. Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford. Jim White, R-Huron. Susan Wismer, D-Britton. Jordan Youngberg, R-Madison.

No — Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City. Joshua Klumb, R-Mount Vernon. Jack Kolbeck, R-Sioux Falls. Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls. Margaret Sutton, R-Sioux Falls. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City.

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