PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota legislative panel that killed a proposed statewide ban on texting while driving a year ago voted unanimously Monday to support a similar measure.
The House Judiciary Committee last year rejected a texting ban after lawmakers said studies showed no reduction in traffic accidents in the 41 other states that have such bans. Committee members this year said they are willing to try a statewide ban that would replace widely varying local bans imposed by seven communities.
The measure's main sponsor, House Speaker Brian Gosch, said rules for texting while driving should be the same everywhere in the state.
"So you don't have to question what the penalties are, what the rules are and what you can and can't do," the Rapid City Republican said.
He initially proposed a bill that sought only to prevent local governments from passing their own distracted driving ordinances, including texting bans — something he said existing law already prevents them from doing. But at a committee hearing last week, Gosch added the statewide texting ban to the bill's language.
Representatives of cities and police chiefs supported the bill, but said they want it changed as it moves through the Legislature so cities and counties could continue imposing their own, stronger bans.
Myron Rau, a former Highway Patrol officer who is now president of the South Dakota Trucking Association, said details of a ban are not important because most people will stop texting while driving if state law forbids it.
"I think anybody who's worn a uniform for a long time would agree you don't affect behavior by fines. You affect behavior by culture. This is a culture that needs to change," Rau said.
Gosch has said he believes a ban will reduce texting while driving only if it is coupled with a state advertising campaign that urges drivers not to engage in distracting activities.
The bill would make it a petty offense carrying a $25 fine to drive while using a hand-held device to write, send or read text-based messages. However, drivers could still use cellphones to talk and could text using voice-operated or hands-free technology.
Law enforcement officers also could issue tickets for texting while driving only after stopping drivers for some other traffic violation.
Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg, who is also president of the South Dakota Police Chiefs Association, said local law officers want the ability to stop motorists just for texting behind the wheel, rather than having to stop them for some other offense first.
"It would just give us a little more teeth in certain cities that want it," Overweg said.
Yvonne Taylor, executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League, said cities support a statewide texting ban, but believe they should have authority to impose their own distracted driving ordinances.