A bill examining local government control over banning texting while driving was introduced by South Dakota Speaker of the House Brian Gosch during the 86th S.D. Legislative session.
If passed, House Bill 1177 would invalidate any city ordinance illegalizing any form of inattentive driving.
Seven cities in South Dakota — including Vermillion — currently have a texting regulation in place.
The Vermillion City Council voted unanimously to ban texting while driving in April 2013, and the ordinance went into effect in May 2013.
Because of several bans already in place, Vermillion City Manager John Prescott said he could see an aspect of an attack on local control through the bill.
“This came about through council members,” Prescott said. “If the state says ‘No, you can’t do that’ what is that saying? ‘You don’t know what’s best for you’.”
University of South Dakota senior Dawson Deming was in support of the aspect of having a uniform law on distracted driving, but said the current city ordinances should be kept in place until a state-wide measure is able to be implemented.
“I think that it would be smarter to have it a state-wide ban, because you could be driving in Vermillion and get picked up for texting while driving, but not in another city,” Deming said. “You don’t know where it’s legal and where it isn’t.”
In addition to confusion with location issues, Deming said texting while driving bans are met with other difficulties.
“I think it’s too hard to enforce a texting while driving ban,” Deming said. “There are a lot of gray areas.”
Junior Brandee McMahon said texting is not the only distraction which causes possible problems to drivers and passengers out on the road.
“I think that banning texting is trying to make others more aware of what can happen while you aren’t paying attention and driving, but there are so many other distractions that could be going on as well,” McMahon said. “I feel the awareness of texting and driving is a good idea, but I don’t think that banning it is going to solve any issues. Unfortunately, people are going to do what they want whether the government or cities condone it.”
Prescott said the topic was first brought to the city council in January 2013, but was put on hold until after the 2013 legislative session in the hope it would be addressed on a state level.
“They waited to see if the legislature took any action during the 2013 session,” Prescott said. “When the ban did not come out of the session, they moved forward in March.”
House Bill 1177 will appear before the House Judiciary committee today.
Follow reporter Cristina Drey on Twitter @CristinaDrey