Last updated: September 18, 2015
Distracted driving news: Text messaging while driving is now against the law for all drivers in South Dakota, with a fine of $100. Enforcement will be secondary, however, meaning police will need to see a second violation in order to issue a texting citation. The law went into full effect July 1, 2014. A year later, officials say almost no tickets have been issued under the statewide law. Some cities continue to enforce their pre-existing distracted driving laws via primary enforcement.
The 2014 distracted driving law almost didn’t happen: The two legislative bodies in South Dakota both approved texting & driving bans, but couldn’t agree on an approach. The issue appeared dead for the 2014 session but a dramatic turnaround of March 13 produced a compromise bill that made it to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk. He signed the measure March 28, 2014.
Rapid City has adopted a texting & driving law with primary enforcement. Police Chief Steve Allender has called the state texting law “toothless.” The fine was $100 as of July 1, 2014, but police began handing out warnings in mid-May. Enactment votes by the City Council were unanimous.
A law barring most teen drivers from using handheld wireless communications devices such as cell phones went into effect July 1, 2013. Just before passage in the House, the teen driver bill also was downgraded to secondary enforcement.
South Dakota distracted driving prohibitions:
- All drivers barred from text messaging while driving. Effective July 1; some local laws already in effect.
- Drivers under under age 18 with restricted/learners licenses barred from using handheld wireless communications devices.
- At least nine South Dakota cities have distracted driving ordinances — Rapid City, Huron, Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell, Vermillion, Aberdeen, Box Elder and Sioux Falls.
Distracted driving notes (2015):
A Department of Public Safety spokesman told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan he had only seen a handful of Highway Patrol tickets for texting under the state law in its first year. “It wasn’t even the official reason for it,” spokesman Tony Mangan said. “It was just an aside as a contributing factor. The reason is that it’s difficult to get people to admit they are texting and driving.”
Distracted driving legislation (2014)
House Bill 1177: Would bar local governments from enacting distracted driving laws. Bill is from speaker of the House. As amended Feb. 5, would prohibit texting & driving. $25 fine, secondary enforcement. Read the amendment. Approved by the Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote of Feb. 10. Approved by the full House in a 53-17 vote of Feb. 12. Approved by the Senate State Affairs panel in a 5-4 vote of March 5. Amended and approved by the full Senate in a 17-3 vote of March 10. Read the Senate amendment of March 10. House rejected Senate amendments (March 11) and conference committee could not reach agreement after rejecting another amendment (March 12). Another conference committee produced an amendment that was approved by the House in a 52-18 vote and by the Senate in a 28-7 vote, both of March 13. Read the March 13 amendment. Signed by the governor March 28. Takes effect July 1. (Gosch, Kirkeby)
SB 179: Would outlaw texting in South Dakota. Secondary enforcement. Fine up to $100. Would allow local laws if penalties are “at least as strict.” Approved by Transportation in a 5-1 vote of Feb. 19. Approved by the full Senate in a 26-7 vote of Feb. 21. Rejected by the House Transportation Committee in a 5-7 vote of March 6. (Vehle)
Senate Bill 13: Would make use of a handheld mobile phone by commercial vehicle operators a “serious traffic violation.” Allows for loss of commercial driver’s license for texting or using handheld cell phones. (Department of Public Safety via Senate Transportation Committee)
2014 distracted driving notes:
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender, a no-nonsense advocate for distracted driving laws, dismissed charges that the local texting law’s primary enforcement provision would give police freedom to make bogus traffic stops. “This is not part of a government conspiracy to gain control of its citizens,” he said during debate on the ordinance.
Mitchell’s City Council has been asked to repeal its texting & driving ordinance in light of the (weaker) state law. The city councilor said he fears a costly court fight. The mayor said the city might be able to retain the local law’s primary enforcement.
“Texting while driving is dangerous,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in announcing the March 28 signing of the text messaging ban. “It is my hope that, by prohibiting this practice, we will remind South Dakotans and all those who use our roads to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones.”
The Legislature turned to a second conference committee, with new members, in order to end their standoff over distracted driving. The House’s controversial provision that would have eliminated local laws regarding distracted driving was removed from the final bill. The law is essentially the same as the bill that emerged from the Senate in late February.
State Sen. Mike Vehle, who had the Senate plan, said it “just didn’t seem right” to take away local distracted driving ordinances in exchange for a weak statewide law with a $25 fine.
Vehle’s plan to outlaw text messaging while driving in South Dakota was approved by the Senate in a 26-7 vote on Feb. 21, but the House Transportation panel rejected it March 6. The House signed off on its own plan Feb. 12. The House legislation was OK’d by a Senate panel in early March and went before the full Senate. Both plans envisioned weak, “secondary” enforcement.
As amended in the Senate, though, the House version would have required primary enforcement of the texting law, with a possible fine of $500 and 30 days in jail. Vehle, who authored the March 10 amendment, said the House plan “demands to be fixed.” The House rejected those changes and a conference committee rejected a compromise plan March 12.
The House measure started life seeking only to kill local laws against distracted driving, but its sponsor, Rep. Brian Gosch, added a texting & driving ban.
Gosch’s House Bill 1177 would be a poor substitute for some local ordinances, critics charged at an earlier committee hearing. The bill envisions only a $25 fine for texting & driving, and enforcement would be secondary, meaning police would need another reason to stop and cite offenders. “What’s more important: Having a ban or writing a ticket?” one representative asked before the House vote of 53-17.
The Senate amendments to the House texting bill contained this unusual language: “Any public or private employer may establish, maintain, or enforce a policy or rule that prohibits any employee from using an electronic wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.”
“We don’t care how you do it — just get it done this year,” a lobbyist for the South Dakota Mass Transit Association told the Senate Senate State Affairs Committee as it considered the House’s texting & driving plan March 5. The panel narrowly approved the House’s texting bill but the full Senate then amended it to a much toughter plan. Some senators warned the amendments may doom efforts to ban texting & driving in South Dakota in 2014.
The city of Box Elder’s ban on distracted driving went into effect March 1, with a six- to eight-week warning period. It’s a general disracted driving law that includes text messaging and use of handheld cell phones, as well as grooming and handling pets. Secondary enforcement with $120 fines.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard is expected to sign any texting ban that emerges from the Legislature. Lt. Gov. Matt Michels told the Argus Leader of the controversial House Bill 1177: “If I were going to handicap it, I would think this is going to be with us in a conference committee.”
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Sen. Mike Vehle said of his SB 179. Vehle, R-Mitchell, told the AP: “I want to make it a culture shift. It’s not safe to text and drive. … To me, it’s not about tickets. It’s not about fines. It’s about safe driving.” His bill calls for a $100 fine.
House Bill 1177 sponsor Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, is speaker of the House. He has opposed previous texting bans. He said at a 2014 hearing that advocates of distracted driving laws usually aren’t objective and “often are not sane half the time,” the AP reported. Of cities with distracted driving laws that opposed his plan, he says, “their fight is with the (South Dakota) code book.”
The Rapid City Journal editorialized Feb. 2 about the plan to outlaw local distracted driving laws: “If the Legislature passes a law that nullifies municipal and county ordinances against texting while driving, what message will that send to drivers?” It dubbed HB 1177 “nonsensical.”
Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, is looking for an amendment to House Bill 1177 that will continue to allow “local control” of distracted driving. Her city’s ordinance is for primary enforcement of texting.
Rapid City’s police chief, Steve Allender, cites an “obvious aversion among select but powerful South Dakota legislators to create a state texting law.” Allender said the lawmakers’ excuses for inaction “are disturbing to me for many reasons but not as disturbing as the lack of representation evidenced by not addressing (distracted driving).” Rapid City is nearing a texting ban of its own, he wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to the Capital Journal.
2013 distracted driving notes:
Pennington County has banned texting while driving, effective Nov. 4. County commissioners on Oct. 2 cited a lack of action by the state Legislature and the city of Rapid City. Fine: Up to $200. The classified texting & driving as a public nuisance, a classification apparently needed for the county to stick its nose into traffic law. The Rapid City police chief said it wasn’t clear where the law would be enforced, since the city has shown no interest in banning text messaging while driving. The city attorney in Rapid City told the local newspaper in mid-July that the only inquiries he gets about a distracted driving ordinance are from the media.
Vermillion police haven’t issued a single ticket for texting & driving in the five months since the ordinance went into effect. Two warnings as of mid-November 2013.
Sioux Falls cited 25 people for text messaging in the first year of its distracted driving ordinance. It went into effect Sept. 28, 2012. $95 is the standard fine.
Aberdeen’s ban on text messaging while driving went into effect July 26. Fines: $120 but punishments of up to $500 and 30 days in jail possible. The ban, which includes emailing and other uses of the Internet, was approved unanimously by the City Council on July 1.
Mitchell’s City Council waited in vain for a state texting law to clear the Legislature in 2013. It then went on to adopt South Dakota’s fifth local ban on text messaging while driving. Enforcement of the Mitchell texting ban began May 17, with tickets starting at about $150. “The Legislature has once again failed on an issue that deserves some public attention,” Mayor Ken Tracy said in mid-March. State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, addressed the council about the dangers of text messaging while driving and the defeat of his texting plan SB 142. The ordinance, approved April 15, is the same as a texting bill that state legislators rejected.
The teen cell phone measure — SB 106 — was credited to the legislative Task Force on Teen Driving Safety, which concluded South Dakota teens should be barred from using handheld electronic devices while driving. The law applies to drivers under age 18 with restricted/learners licenses. South Dakota allows 14-year-olds to drive with instruction permits.
The 2013 texting bill — SB 142 — would have allowed for hands-free operation as well as voice-controlled use. It was defeated by a House panel Feb. 27. Sponsor state Sen. Mike Vehle, a Republican, has backed a texting & driving bill every year since 2010 — and seen them all defeated in the House Judiciary Committee.
State Sen. Craig Tieszen, who has has sponsored previous texting & driving legislation, said: “Frankly, there are legislators that like to text and drive and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
State Rep. Jim Bolin, sponsor of last session’s statewide texting & driving bill, told HandsFreeInfo.com that the move to the Senate in 2013 was “just a change in legislative tactics” by supportive lawmakers.
Sioux Falls police issued about 20 tickets for text messaging & driving in the first nine months after the law went into effect in late September 2012. Huron handed out six tickets under its new 2013 law. Brookings and Watertown have issued one ticket each, Keloland TV reported in late May 2013.
The Aberdeen City Council reopened discussions on a ban on texting & driving in mid-April. The distracted driving ban is expected to come up for serious consideration sometime during the summer. The City Council debated a cellphone ban in 2008.
House Speaker Brian Gosch, who opposes the texting bill, assigned it to his own Judiciary Committee, where its progress abruptly stopped. “I was very disappointed,” said sponsor Mike Vehle. “There were a lot of drawn faces,” Vehle said. Eighteen people testified in favor of the bill, including a texting driver who killed a motorcyclist, KELO reported.
“I think that (there are) other ways to influence our culture, to teach people that texting and driving is not socially accepted,” said Rep. Jon Hansen, the Republican majority whip who helped defeat the 2013 texting & driving bill. State Rep. Gene Abdallah, a key opponent of the 2012 text messaging plan, is no longer in the House.
Huron’s bans on texting and other forms of distracted driving went into effect Jan. 3. Texting brings a stiffer fine ($100/$160 with court costs) than general distracted driving ($15/$75). Chief of Police Gary Will Jr. told KDLT that he wasn’t sure about texting enforcement, but with the general law “we’ll be at least able to say they were distracted because whatever they were doing led them to speed, run a stop sign, swerve or some other type of unsafe behavior.” For school bus drivers and those with learner’s permits, talking on a cell phone while driving is prohibited. The ordinance was approved Dec. 3, 2012.
Watertown also has outlawed texting while driving, with penalties up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. The ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 11, 2013, was approved Dec. 17, 2012. It also prohibits accessing the Internet while behind the wheel.
2013 distracted driving legislation
Senate Bill 44: Allows for disqualification of commercial vehicle drivers for violations of federal, state and local text messaging restrictions. Would bring South Dakota in line with existing federal guidelines on texting by commercial drivers. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 4-2 vote of Feb. 13. Approved by the full Senate in a 23-10 vote of Feb. 19. Approved by the House Judiciary Committee in 12-1 vote of Feb. 25. Approved by the full House in a 50-20 vote Feb. 27. Latest legislative action: Senate signed off on minor House changes in a 26-5 vote of March 4. Signed into law by the governor March 12. (Department of Public Safety via the Committee on Judiciary)
SB 106: Would prohibit many drivers under the age of 18 from using wireless communications devices such as smartphones. Applies to those with instruction permits and restricted minors permits. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 4. Approved by the full Senate in a 26-9 vote of Feb. 6. Amended to secondary enforcement status by the House. Defeated, reconsidered and approved by the House in a 36-33 vote Feb. 27-28. Latest legislative action: Amended and again approved by the House in a 43-23 vote March 4, and then again by the Senate in a 23-10 vote March 6. Signed by the governor March 25. Went into effect July 1, 2013. (Task Force on Teen Safety via Transportation Committee).
SB 142: Seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving, unless the wireless communication device is in a hands-free or voice-operated mode. Would prohibit municipalities from adopting conflicting texting & driving laws. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 5-2 vote of Feb. 15. Approved by the full Senate in a 24-9 vote of Feb. 19. Latest legislative action: Derailed by the House Judiciary Committee in an 8-5 vote of Feb. 27. (Vehle, Bradford)
2012 distracted driving legislation (dead)
HB 1129: Would have outlawed drivers’ use of handheld electronic wireless communication devices to write, send, or read a text-based communication. Hands-free operation OK. Killed by the State Affairs Committee on Feb. 1. (Bolin)
2012 distracted driving notes:
Sioux Falls has banned texting and driving. The ordinance took effect in South Dakota’s largest city Sept. 28, 2012. Fines up to $200 and possible jail time.
“I think we’ve waited long enough for the state to do something on this,” a Sioux Falls city councilor told the Argus Leader before the vote.”Somebody has to give the state an example to go by.” The local texting ban was approved Sept. 4, and went into effect Sept. 28, 2012. It calls for primary enforcement, allowing police to pull over suspected violators without another reason. The distracted driving ordinance does not place limits on drivers’ use of cell phones.
South Dakota’s Teen Driving Task Force was established by the Legislature in 2011 (via HB 1221). The panel is composed of safety officials, law enforcement leaders and state lawmakers. A ban on novice drivers’ use of handheld electronic devices is among its recommendations for the 2013 Legislature. The panel’s other recommendations include a limit on the number of passengers allowable in vehicles operated by novice drivers.
The statewide text messaging ban proposed by state Rep. Jim Bolin called for a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail term. The State Affairs Committee voted 10-3 to effectively kill HB 1129. Rep. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, was a key opponent of the distracted driving plan, saying enforcement was untenable and challenges would clog the courts.
State Sen. Eldon Nygaard says the texting bill SB 71 failed in 2011 because of a lack of organized support in the House. “That won’t be the case this year,” said Nygaard, a Senate sponsor of the texting bill HB 1129 — but it was subsequently defeated in committee.
“Perhaps we didn’t go far enough (with the texting bill),” Nygaard, R-Vermillion, told the Argus Leader. “Maybe we should talk about banning all hand-held cell phone use while driving.”
Distracted drivers in South Dakota got the blame for 883 crashes in 2011, preliminary numbers show. Another 134 accidents were tied specifically to cell phone use.
A highway safety group rated South Dakota’s traffic laws the worst in the country. The lack of distracted driving laws contributed to the state’s “red” rating from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Arizona had the second-worst rating.
House Bill 1221: Establishes a task force on teen driver safety, charged with making recommendations for the 2013 Legislature. Approved by the House on Feb. 14 (44-24 vote) and then by the Senate on March 8 (32-2 vote). Signed into law by the governor on March 28, 2012. (Moser)
Senate Bill 71: Would outlaw text messaging while driving unless a hands-free application were employed. Fines up to $500 and possibility of jail time. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 on Feb. 8 to approve the bill and send it to the floor for a vote. Approved by the Senate in a 26-9 vote on Jan. 10 and sent to the House. Latest action: Killed March 1 by the House Local Government committee, which voted 8-5 to set aside the distracted driving legislation. (Tieszen)
SB 115: Would outlaw text messaging while driving unless a hands-free application was used. Applies to other electronic messages such as email and IMs. Sponsor had measure deferred Feb. 8 for a rewrite. Senate Judiciary Committee voted Feb. 10 to set aside the legislation. (Adelstein)
2011 distracted driving notes:
The Senate voted Feb. 10 to outlaw text messaging while driving, but three weeks later Sen. Craig Tieszen’s bill went down to defeat via a House committee. The bill called for fines up to $500 and jail time of up to 30 days.
The South Dakota House Local Government committee wasn’t swayed by testimony from (Miss South Dakota) Loren Vaillancourt and nine other people testifying in favor of Senate Bill 71, which would have banned texting while driving. House opponents cited the usual list of other distracted driving behaviors (plus “swatting a bug”) and expressed concerns over enforcement because cell phone keyboards would be used to make calls. The March 1 committee vote was 8-5.
Miss South Dakota Loren Vaillancourt testified Feb. 8 in favor of Sen. Craig Tieszen’s bill that would ban texting while driving. “I hope you understand the magnitude of this issue and the lives that could be saved if this bill is passed,” an emotional Vaillancourt told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which promptly approved the measure. Two days later, it was approved by the Senate and sent to the House. Vaillancourt lost her brother in a May 2009 crash blamed on a distracted driver.
Senate Bill 71 sponsor Rep. Tieszen, a Republican from Rapid City, is that city’s retired police chief. He chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved SB 71.
Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, indicated Feb. 8 that his texting and driving measure SB 115 will be rewritten as a broader distracted driving plan since SB 71 has cleared the Senate. (Adelstein)
Only a third of the majority Republican legislators back a statewide ban on text messaging while driving in South Dakota, an AP survey shows. Three-quarters of Democrats are in favor of such a law, an AP survey taken in December 2010 showed.
Several opponents of distracted driving legislation are reconsidering in 2011, a Senate sponsor says. “Texting is the proverbial lowest-hanging fruit,” Sen. Tieszen said of his distracted driving measure. “I believe it is the most dangerous of the various driving distractions.”
House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff expects support to grow for a texting ban as the legislative session progresses. “(Legislators) move toward the commonsense reality that if we can save some lives with a simple law, then it probably makes sense,” he told the AP in January. About a fifth of the Republicans remained undecided, the AP’s survey showed.
The Daily Republic came out in favor of a texting and driving law: “Even if a ban averts one tragic accident, it was worth it,” the newspaper editorialized Jan. 11. “Texting while behind the wheel should be a crime.”
Miss South Dakota Loren Vaillancourt made distracted driving her “platform” (cause) for the 2011 Miss America pageant. Vaillancourt didn’t win, but drew praise from DOT chief Ray La Hood, who blogged that she “has done a terrific job raising awareness among young people in South Dakota.” She helped get a texting and driving bill through a Senate panel in February (above).
Based on its survey, the University of South Dakota Government Research Bureau says almost 92 percent of drivers in the state believe texting while behind the wheel should be banned.
HB 1133: For drivers under 18 with restricted licenses, the bill would outlaw use of cell phones and other wireless communications devices. Exempts GPS. Cleared the Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 1, 2010. Failed to advance and dead. (Cutler)
HB 1178: Would outlaw text messaging by any driver. Defeated in a full House vote (32-37) on Feb. 17. Sponsor asked for reconsideration, which was denied in another vote the next day. (Nygaard)
2010 legislation notes:
State Rep. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls, and state Sen. Pam Merchant, D-Brookings, were chief sponsors of House Bill 1133, which sought to keep handheld electronic devices out of the hands of young drivers. It failed to advance to the House floor, but Cutler says she may be back for another try.
South Dakota started running a TV ad about distracted driving in summer 2010. Cutler said the PSA could help build support for future legislation.
Heard during debate on HB 1178: “If we don’t take this action we lack compassion for those who have to pick up the pieces from these horrendous accidents,” said Rep. Gerald Lang, D-Madison.
Rep. Todd Schlekeway, R-Sioux Falls, on the defeat of a text messaging ban: “We have a libertarian streak in South Dakota. We kind of look down on these things.”
The Press & Dakotan editorialized July 20: “With Nebraska and Iowa both instituting texting laws this month, there is little reason for South Dakota not to follow suit and implement its own law. … South Dakota is now one of just 12 states that have failed to address the matter.”
2009 distracted driving notes:
Rep. Eldon Nygaard, D-Vermillion, was the sponsor of HB 1125, the anti-texting legislation that was considered in the 2009 session.
Rapid City briefly considered limits on cell-phoning drivers, but noted that any legislation should come from the state level.
HB 1125: Would have outlawed text messaging by all drivers. Specified use of cell phones for texting. The House State Affairs Committee shot down this texting-and-driving legislation in an 8-4 vote on Feb. 19, 2009.