In South Dakota, a texting turf war

South Dakota finds itself in the midst of a turf war over distracted driving legislation.

Rep. Brian Gosch of South DakotaThe House speaker, an opponent of previous distracted driving legislation, proposed a bill for 2014 that would discard the state’s crazy quilt of local laws regarding texting and cell phones.

At a contentious House hearing Feb. 5, state Rep. Brian Gosch, left, amended his bill to include a statewide ban on texting & driving. Critics said his intent was to eliminate local authority over distracted driving and replace the ordinances with a watered-down state law.

Updates: That bill passed the House (Feb. 12), and another texting plan was approved by the Senate (Feb. 21). State Sen. Mike Vehle’s legislation would leave the local distracted driving law issue to the courts. /updates

Gosch charged that distracted driving law advocates “often are not sane half the time,” the AP reported.

Gosch’s House Bill 1177 envisions a $25 fine for texting as a petty offense, with enforcement limited to secondary status. The law would replace all local ordinances.

In the Senate, longtime distracted driving law advocate Mike Vehle also proposes a texting bill, but it would allow “conflicting” local laws that are at least as strong. It, too, seeks secondary enforcement. Fines under Senate Bill 179 would top out at $100.

The Transportation Committee chairman’s SB 142 of 2013 was approved by the Senate but killed by a House committee. It would not have allowed cities to make their own texting laws.

A law barring most teen drivers from using handheld wireless communications devices such as cell phones went into effect in South Dakota last summer. Just before passage in the House, the teen driver bill was downgraded to secondary enforcement.

Local distracted driving laws are in effect in Huron, Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell, Vermillion, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, with Rapid City close to joining the group.

South Dakota
and South Carolina both have seen significant local regulatory action in the face of inactivity at the state level. They remain among the few states that do not ban text messaging and driving by all drivers.

The only statewide South Dakota restriction on use of wireless communications devices affects drivers under under age 18 with restricted/learners licenses.

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