Texting while driving ban considered
Dakota Digest - 08/07/2012
By Cassie Bartlett
South Dakota is one of 11 states that doesn’t have a texting while driving ban for all drivers. But the state’s largest city is considering an ordinance to ban texting while driving within city limits. A recent accident in Sioux Falls left a motorcyclist dead, and investigators believe the driver who caused the accident was texting, while also driving two times faster than the speed the limit. On this Dakota Digest, SDPB’s Cassie Bartlett takes a look at how accidents like this are bringing more awareness to the issue.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been a distracted driver before. I’ve answered calls, text and read emails while driving.
But recently, as not only teenagers, but older adults as well, have increased the amount of texting they do behind the wheel, I’ve tried to stop. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has found that texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for almost five seconds. Carnegie Mellon research shows driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. This is part of the reason why car accidents where the driver was distracted killed more than three thousand people in 2010.
Sam Clemens is the Public Information Officer with the Sioux Falls Police Department.
“Driving is something that people take for granted because it happens so much and at such a young age that people become accustomed to do other things while driving. Unfortunately that ends up including texting as one of those,” Clemens says.
The South Dakota State Legislature has considered five texting while driving bans for all drivers since 2009. None of the proposed legislation has even made it to both the Senate and House of Representatives for full votes. Sue Aguilar is a member of the Sioux Falls City Council. She is also a member of the Public Service Committee that supports bringing a city ordinance to ban texting while driving to the full council.
“A little over two years ago, there had been an investigation as far as whether this was something that we should be bringing forward within our community. At that point, we decided that there had been legislation proposed on a statewide level, and also we knew that it was going to be proposed again, so we didn’t at that point take action,” Aguilar says.
Now that the state legislature has failed numerous times to pass a ban, Aguilar says as the biggest city in the state, Sioux Falls wants to be an example.
“We hope that this will just be the beginning, that the state will again take a look at a statewide ban,” Aguilar says.
Aguilar says statistics show 80 percent of people stop texting if there is a law that bans it. She says the recent accident in Sioux Falls brings the issue to the forefront and highlights the dangers. State Representative Jim Bolin was the primary sponsor of the most recent proposed legislation to ban texting while driving statewide. He says after a fatal accident is partly caused by texting, it shows how necessary a ban is to protect the public.
“Texting while driving a car is a particular practice that is inherently dangerous to the public because it’s not just going to impact you, it can very likely impact other people as we saw in this tragedy in Sioux Falls,” Bolin says.
Bolin says he expects new legislation to be brought up this spring, but some of the opponents to a texting while driving ban believe it infringes on individual liberties. Aaron McGowan is the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney. He says the language of the law reflects the amount of support it’ll receive.
“It would really depend on the language of the law. I will certainly be in favor of any laws that promote public safety, especially on our highways. But in doing so, we have to maintain that we protect the rights of our citizens as well. It would really depend on the form and the language of the statute, but if there would be one that would work, I would be supportive of that,” McGowan says.
While in theory there may be support to a texting ban, others like Brad Omland opposes any kind of ban. Omland is a senior at the University of South Dakota. He’s studying political science and is a member of the College Libertarians.
“It’s personal liberty and personal responsibility. Yes, it is unsafe, that’s obvious. But if somebody wants to answer a text message while they’re driving that’s certainly their right,” Omland says.
Besides possibly infringing on personal rights, how a texting ban is enforced also has some people concerned. Doug Barthel is the Sioux Falls Police Chief.
“The unique thing about this violation is it pertains to activity that’s going on inside of the car. The officer, it’s difficult to observe things that are going on inside the car versus how they’re driving or different maneuvers the car is making. It’s not near as simple as someone just going through a red light. We have to be close enough so they can see the activity inside the car and develop enough probable cause to stop the car,” Barthel says.
Barthel says while he supports stopping texting while driving, he wishes it would be done at the state level.
“I’m not a big fan of things that are gonna be against the law just within the city limits and then when you get out of it it’s okay. I think sometimes that can be confusing for people,” Barthel says.
One thing is for sure. After the recent accident in Sioux Falls, the dangers of texting while driving have been brought to light. Natalie Sundvold has four kids and her youngest will start driving next year. Sundvold supports a texting while driving ban so people are protected.
“It’s not just worrying about them doing it, but it’s worrying about the other guy. It’s the same with drunk driving too. Even if my kids aren’t doing it, if it’s allowed someone else will do it and they’re on the road endangering my children. Yes, I’m absolutely very worried. Kids, it’s just natural for them to think they can multitask and doing that when you’re driving is absolutely not the right thing to do,” Sundvold says.
Technology is improving so people can now text through the Bluetooth in their cars, or through their phone assistants, like the iPhone’s Siri.
New smartphone apps to prevent drivers from texting are also being developed. One by Rutgers works through the car’s Bluetooth and when a call or text is received, the phone could track where it’s positioned in the car and not let the driver answer.
For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Cassie Bartlett.
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