A South Dakota lawmaker plans to press “send” again and try to persuade his colleagues in the Legislature to join 41 other states and ban texting while driving.
Similar measure have failed in recent legislative sessions, but Sen. Mike Vehle, of Mitchell, said texting behind the wheel is obviously dangerous because it diverts a driver’s attention from the road. A law banning the practice would persuade more people to stop texting while driving simply because it would be illegal, the Republican said.
“I want to make it a culture shift. It’s not safe to text and drive,” Vehle said.
A measure Vehle sponsored last year was passed by the Senate 24-9, but the bill was rejected by a House committee.
Last year’s measure would have prohibited typing, sending or reading a text while driving, but it would have allowed drivers to make cellphone calls and use hands-free electronic devices to handle text-based messages. Vehle said he is still working out details of this year’s proposal.
Vehle’s measure was killed last year by the House Judiciary Committee after opponents said studies have indicated it’s not clear that texting bans have lowered crash rates in other states.
Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, who voted against the proposed texting ban last year, said he hasn’t seen any new information to show a ban improves highway safety. Technological advances are making it possible for drivers to text hands-free by just speaking to their phones, he said.
“Ultimately, I think technology will take care of the issue,” Stevens said.
Vehle said more than a half dozen South Dakota cities already have passed their own texting bans, which could create confusion about where texting is allowed and where it’s prohibited. A state law would make the practice illegal statewide, he said.
A law won’t stop all texting while driving, but other laws have helped reduce drunken driving and increase seat belt use, Vehle said.
“To me, it’s not about tickets. It’s not about fines. It’s about safe driving,” Vehle said. “You’ve got your eyes and your mind off the road. That’s the dangerous part.”
No one testified against the measure during committee hearings last year. People who testified in support of the proposed ban included police chiefs, insurance lobbyists and a grief-stricken widow and the man who killed her husband while texting and driving.
The Governors Highway Safety Association says 41 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers. An additional six states ban text messaging by beginning drivers.