Between the Lines: We’re for less damage and grief

There’s good news and bad news.

First, the good news.

South Dakota appears to be the closest it has ever been toward enacting a statewide ban on texting while driving.

The South Dakota Senate approved a texting while driving ban Tuesday. Meaning our state is oh-so-close to showing that, just like 39 other states, the District of Columbia and Guam, we here on the plains have enough common sense and interest in public safety to pass such a ban.

And now, the bad news.

The Argus Leader reports Wednesday that the legislation now heads to the state House, where it’s expected to face a tough fight. Two previous bans on texting while driving were defeated in that chamber in 2011 and last year.

We see a disappointing pattern here. Similar legislation also failed in the SD House in 2010. Its main sponsor was then-District 17 Rep. Eldon Nygaard of Vermillion.

The ban, if adopted, would forbid “text-based communication” on wireless devices while operating a motor vehicle, with exceptions for hands-free or voice-activated texts and text messages sent while parked.

“Texting and driving is dangerous, it’s deadly and it deserves to be illegal,” said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, in Wednesday’s Argus Leader.

It also would override local bans passed by several South Dakota cities, including Sioux Falls. Vehle said that would bring consistency to the law.

Critics ignore the fact that texting and driving – according to multiple reputable studies – is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. A quarter of all collisions last year could be attributed to the distracted driving practices of texting or talking on a cell phone.

Distracted driving in general accounts for about 80 percent of accidents. In 2011, more than 6,000 people died and more than a half-million others were injured in crashes related to driver inattention.

The following statistics come from a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI):

 

  • Of all cell phone related tasks – including talking, dialing, or reaching for the phone – texting while driving is the most dangerous.
  • Teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near crash events directly related to talking on a cell phone or texting.
  • A car driver dialing a cell phone is 2.8 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-distracted driver.
  • A driver reaching for a cell phone or any other electronic device is 1.4 times more likely to experience a car crash.
  • A car driver talking on their phone is 1.3 times more likely to get into an accident.
  • A truck driver texting while driving is 23.2 times more likely to get into an accident than a trucker paying full attention to the road.
  • A truck driver dialing a cell is 5.9 times more likely to crash.
  • A trucker reaching for a phone or other device is 6.7 times more likely to experience a truck accident.
  • For every 6 seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road. This makes texting the most distracting of all cell phone related tasks.

Approximately a year ago, I wrote a column very similar to this one, urging state lawmakers to someday approve a ban on texting while driving.

At a cracker barrel legislative meeting held in Vermillion in February, 2012, retired Circuit Judge Art Rusch of Vermillion pointed out that the reason many legislators cite for not supporting a ban – difficulty of enforcement – is an incredibly weak excuse.

“I’ve been involved in law enforcement for approximately 40 years, and I’ve never heard the argument made that because something may be tough to enforce, it shouldn’t be made into a law,” he said. “If that’s going to be a criteria, then why don’t they get rid of the laws that forbid murder, because that’s too expensive and difficult to enforce? That argument is just ludicrous.”

Rusch applauded Sen. Eldon Nygaard and Rep. Tom Jones back in 2012 for supporting the ban on texting. “… clearly all of the research shows that it lead to lots of damage and grief.”

This year, Jones is a member of the state Senate. Our district’s House members are Nancy Rasmussen and Ray Ring. We urge you to contact them, and other House members you may know, and ask them to support the texting ban.

Like Judge Rusch, we’re for less damage and grief. We hope the state Legislature is, too.

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