Katie Zerr: It is time the legislature gets serious about texting

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It is time the South Dakota legislature seriously addresses the issue of banning the use of electronic devices while driving. South Dakota is one of 11 states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers.

During past sessions, the legislature has refused to pass legislation for a number of reasons that included (in one of the first efforts pass this type of legislation) that children are more of a distraction in a vehicle than texting.

A South Dakota House committee shot down a proposed ban in early February 2012. The plan from Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, called for a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail term. The State Affairs Committee voted 10-3 to effectively kill the measure. Rep. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, was a key opponent of the distracted driving plan, saying enforcement was untenable and challenges would clog the courts.

A similar ban bill, SB 71, failed in 2011 because of a lack of organized support in the House. In the beginning it seemed some legislators dismissed the purposed bill as if it were not an important issue. House opponents cited the usual list of other distracted driving behaviors including swatting a bug and expressed concerns over enforcement because cell phone keyboards would be used to make calls.

This week a task force on teen driving safety recommended that the legislature prohibit young drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel, as well as recommendations on learner’s permits and restricted permits.

The legislature will consider the task force’s recommendation when lawmakers convene in January.

A recent survey by the University of South Dakota Government Research Bureau stated almost 92 percent of drivers in the state believe texting while behind the wheel should be banned.

If that is not enough to change the minds of those legislators who feel they should be able to text while they cross the state on their way to Pierre, here are a couple more eye-opening facts.

Distracted drivers in South Dakota got the blame for 883 crashes in 2011, preliminary numbers show. Another 134 accidents were tied specifically to cell phone use.

In 2010 nationwide, 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

In 2010, 18 percent of injury crashes were reported as distraction-affected crashes.

Of all drivers under the age of 20, 11 percent involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent, at 55 mph, of driving the length of an entire football field while driving blind.

It is not just teens that are the culprits in these dangerous endeavors.

Nothing is more frightening to a driver than to top a hill and be greeted by another vehicle drifting into the opposite lane of traffic while the driver’s head is down concentrating on a cell phone.

Cell phones seem to push common sense completely out of the heads of users. Mothers with children in the vehicle and texting while driving in a school zone is one of the most egregious of all offenses, yet can be seen at either of this city’s schools.

Others have been witnessed texting while operating a motor cycle, texting while pulling onto a highway from a stop sign and texting while making the u-turn at the end of Main Street.

With all of the advanced technology packed into the new cell phones, one can only come to the conclusion that this country’s love affair with electronic devices will only grow.

It is time the legislators put their personal opinions aside and did what is best for the people of this state. They must pass legislation with teeth in it that will make people use the common sense God gave them when considering the use of electronic devices in vehicles.

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