Bill raises texting while driving to primary offense

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Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2020 4:23 pm

After some emotional testimony, the House Transportation Committee approved a bill that makes texting while driving a primary offense.

HB1169 would make using an electronic device while driving a primary rather than secondary offense. Currently drivers can’t be stopped for texting while driving, but can be ticketed if they are found to be in violation of another law.

Exceptions in the bill allow the use of electronic devices by law enforcement and other emergency services, texting 911 in an emergency and entering a phone number to make a call.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Doug Barthel, R-Sioux Falls, said he offered a similar bill last year that came up one vote short of passage in the Senate.

By moving the violation to a primary offense, Barthel said, it was likely that more people would obey the law. The fine would go up to $122.50.

“It’s not going to be a big revenue generator,” Barthel said.

The legislation is more about changing behavior, according to Doug Abraham, who represents insurance companies.

“When you know you’re going to be pulled over, you change your behavior,” Abraham said.

Lobbyists from a wide array of interests supported the bill. They included hospitals and the medical profession, building contractors, firefighters and EMTs, sheriffs and police chiefs.

The committee also heard from Jeff and Lesa Dahl of Castlewood whose 19-year-old son Jacob died in a car accident while he was using his phone. The Northern State University student was taking a photo with his phone when his car ran into the rear of a truck hauling soybeans.

Jeff Dahl pulled from a Highway Patrol evidence bag the phone his son was using when he died. Forensic evidence showed that his son was on the phone constantly from when he left Northern until the accident near Andover.

“I cry every single day since then,” Dahl said.

The committee approved the bill on a vote of 10-1. It now goes to the full House.