City Council approves texting ban in Vermillion

By Travis Gulbrandson

The Vermillion City Council has approved an ordinance that prohibits texting while driving.

The action was taken at the council’s regular meeting Monday night.

The ordinance as adopted said that drivers may not “operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while using a handheld wireless communication device to compose, read or send an electronic message when the vehicle is in motion or where the motor vehicle constitutes a part of the flow of traffic or an obstruction and hazard to traffic.”

City Attorney Jim McCulloch made clear that the ordinance does not include the use of GPS or navigation systems, or voice and other data transmitted through regular phone calls.

Two-way and CB radios, as well as walkie-talkies, are not included, either.

The ordinance does include two exceptions: The first is “the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety is in immediate danger,” while the second is for people in an emergency vehicle while performing official duties.

The council also adopted a $54 fee for those who violate the ordinance.

City Manager John Prescott added that violators can expect to pay an additional $60 in court costs, as well.

The city council had its first reading of the ordinance last month, as well as a meeting during which the members discussed the recent failure of a statewide texting ban to pass during the recent legislative session.

At that special meeting, council member Kelsey Collier-Wise had said that while it’s a good thing there are representatives from each county in the state serving in the legislature, this could also have led to the texting bills’ failures to pass on a state level.

“Part of the problem is … there are a lot of places that have very different traffic issues than the 10 largest cities, and obviously where you’re seeing this happening is where the populations are,” she said. “Maybe out in the middle of Bison County, it’s just not that much of an issue, but they don’t have to deal with thousands of students coming in every year that use texting as a primary means of communication.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think they necessarily … have the same priorities we do (on the issue),” she said.

With the adoption of its local texting ban, Vermillion joins Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown and Huron as one of the first communities in the state to take a legal stand on the issue.

Prescott said Mitchell is mulling a similar law, as well.

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