State needs to get with the program


Besides lax seat belt laws, South Dakota is one of only four states that list texting while driving a secondary offense instead of a primary offense. In other words, a driver cannot legally be stopped if a law enforcement officer suspects he or she is texting while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. The other three states are Florida, Nebraska and Ohio. There is no state law against texting while driving in Montana and Arizona, and in Missouri for non-commercial drivers 22 and older. So, that leaves 43 states that have already made texting while driving a primary offense.
When we receive reports of vehicle fatalities in the state from the highway patrol, it often involves a person driving alone on a rural paved or gravel road who overcorrects and rolls their vehicle, be it a car or a truck. Invariably, that person will die because they were not wearing a seat belt and were ejected from the vehicle as it rolled many times over them. Statistics show that drivers belted in their vehicles have a much better chance of survival in such a rollover incident. Its a matter of common sense, but not buckling up is not even a primary driving offense in South Dakota. It is a secondary offense and requires the driver and front seat passenger 18 or older to buckle up.
Let’s take a look at federal statistics from 2015 relating to texting fatalities and injuries in this country. Accidents involving texting and other distracted driving killed almost 3,500 people nationally and injured nearly 400,000. That’s more than nine fatalities a day related to texting and driving. We need to do a lot better than that and we can do our part in South Dakota by totally banning texting while driving and making it a primary offense. We can do the same for seat belts.
Opponents of the texting and seat belt laws often say people should not be forced to put down their phones or buckle up. These should be personal choices. If texting while driving leads to swerving, tailgating or other dangers, a ticket should be issued, they say. To us, it’s simply a matter of common sense and common courtesy. We would not like to be in the path of an oncoming car whose driver was distracted while trying to text and drive. There are enough accidents caused by distracted drivers as it is. Eliminating texting while driving would eliminate a relatively new one.
We urge our District 30 representatives and senator to consider introducing legislation this session that will help save future lives. No one can force anyone to buckle up or put their smart phone away, but at least making seat belt use mandatory and restricting texting while driving will cause most people to adhere to the law, thereby possibly saving their lives and ours.