House Judiciary hoghoused HB 1177, the distracted driving bill this week. Legislators kept the "We're not really Republicans!" part about trumping local control with state authority: HB 1177 now deems the Legislature "the exclusive regulator of all matters relating to distracted driving and use of electronic wireless communication devices in motor vehicles." (I want a t-shirt that says that: "Exclusive Regulator!")
But Speaker Gosch's bill has now morphed into a texting-while-driving ban. Writing, sending, or reading a text-based wireless communication a secondary offense. Under HB 1177, police couldn't pull you over for staring at your tiny screen instead of the road, but if you run over my child while typing "where r u," Smokey could write you an extra ticket.
HB 1177 still lets you fumble with your keypad as you try to type in or search for a phone number, because, you know, scrolling through your messy contact screen and punching in numbers is so much less distracting than typing other data.
The House said Wednesday that making texting a secondary offense is great. But Aberdeen city attorney Adam Altman isn't so sure HB 1177 can trump his town's more aggressive texting ban:
...Aberdeen’s texting ban is a primary offense, Altman said. That means a driver spotted texting can be pulled over for no other reason.
That’s why Aberdeen and other towns, including Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Huron, Spearfish, Sturgis, Elk Point and Dell Rapids, have all voiced opposition to the state texting proposal, Altman said. He said Aberdeen Police Chief Don Lanpher Jr. is also against the state bill.
“In general, we want the ability to make it a primary offense if the governing body so wishes,” Altman said of the communities opposed to the state measure.
The state text ban “not only says what the Legislature thinks, but tell us what we should think and how we should act,” he said.
Ultimately, Altman said, a judge might have to determine whether the state text ban would trump city bans already in place [Bob Mercer, "Texting Ban Passes House," Aberdeen American News, 2014.02.13].
The Legislature is creeping in the right direction, at least sending the message that people need to put down their toys and drive. When you're on the road, even the long road from the Capitol back home to constituents in Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Aberdeen, keeping your eyes on the road is Job #1. Legislators should focus on enforcing that message and stop trying to take authority away from communities who feeling texting is an even greater danger than our legislators recognize.