No citations and only two warnings have been issued for texting while driving nearly five months after Vermillion’s City Council enacted a citywide ban, said John Prescott, city manager.
Vermillion Police Chief Matt Betzen said while the law is hard to enforce, the threat of a citation is deterring crime.
“People could be doing something on their phones that is legal, but once you make the statement something is illegal, most people will just obey the law,” Betzen said.
Betzen said the law would be enforced against individuals who are putting themselves and others in harms way.
“This law gives us the tools to deal with the most flagrant abusers, those who are totally not paying attention at all while driving,” Betzen said.
Vermillion became the fifth city in South Dakota to implement a law against texting and driving, and while no one has been given an actual citation, Prescott said the law was a good decision.
“Since we have a law on the books it should make the roads safer,” Prescott said.
University of South Dakota student responses have been mixed over the ban. First-year Rachel Blanchard said the law is a good idea, but could prove difficult to enforce.
“What if I was dialing a number to call, but it looks like I’m texting, or if I’m trying to operate my GPS?” Blanchard said. “There’s a bunch of excuses you could use. But, if you expand the law to distracted driving, I think it’s too broad of a concept.”
Statistics reporting drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 are the most likely to get into a cellphone-related crash, and in 2011, 995 deaths occurred as a result of cellphone distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, encouraged initial discussion by City Council, Prescott said.
“One of the council members said this is something we need to look at and made a presentation,” Prescott said. “The research showed that between 70 and 80 percent of people will not text, because it’s a law.”
The ban in effect, drivers who violate the law will face a fine of $114, the cost of a standard traffic violation.
First-year Brooke Thury, who commutes to campus, said the ban was a good thing to have in Vermillion.
“I drive here everyday from Yankton— it’s definitely a good thing to have,” Thury said. “(Offenders) should first get a warning or something like that, but obviously if you’re getting pulled over more than once for texting and driving you clearly should not be doing it.”
Betzen said one positive side effect from the ban is that it has increased distracted driver education using simulations.
“We took it to the high school, middle school, public safety employees, city and county employees and even to the university,” Betzen said. “It shows what happens when you receive a text message and take your eyes off the road.”