$500 for a text message? That’s how much you could pay if police catch you on your phone while driving. Lawmakers have cleared another hurdle to boost the penalty for driving while using electronic devices. House Bill 1088 passed the House Transportation Committee, 12-1. It now goes to the full House. The current law applies only to text messages. The new legislation would add many other activities including taking or looking at pictures or videos, checking social media, and playing games.
Standard rules tell us to keep both hands on the wheel, but left to our own devices, one hand often has a strong grip on our phones.
“I see it every now and again,” Graeme Frost said.
In fact, Frost says some drivers don’t even try to hide it anymore.
“People are bringing it up closer to the windshield, which seems like an attempt to be safer, which is misguided, I think,” Frost said.
Lawmakers are trying to set people straight. They want to up the punishment from a $100 ticket to a class two misdemeanor, which carries up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. 1088 would make this a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could stop you for the suspicion of, for example, texting behind the wheel.
“It’s probably not a bad thing. I think there’s enough people doing it. It’s not one certain area. It’s going to be really pretty much everywhere,” Sam Clemens, Sioux Falls Police Public Information Officer, said.
Right now, texting while driving is only a secondary offense in South Dakota, meaning you’d have to get pulled over for something else first before getting in trouble. Sioux Falls has had a texting ban on the books since 2012. Last year, Sioux Falls Police gave 55 tickets for texting while driving, 100 tickets in 2017, and 109 in 2016. Clemens says the numbers can be higher depending on if the department has officers focused solely on this issue. Clemens says if 1088 passes, law enforcement will adapt to the updated rules.
“If we can get some people to follow those rules, it’s going to make it a little bit safer. Certainly not everybody is going to follow that and we know that, trying to make the roads safe for everybody is what we’re trying to do,” Clemens said.
Frost says a steeper penalty may help, but knows to truly change this behavior, drivers can’t simply phone it in.
“It’s not going to be an overnight switch. It’s going to have to be a process,” Frost said.