Col. Rick Miller, superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, said drivers continue to use their cell phones even though they are well aware of the potential consequences.
âI wish I had had the magic answer of why people always do this, but I don’t,â he said. âIt takes your reaction time and does next to nothing. If something happens in front of you, you have very little time to react.
Texting while driving in South Dakota has been illegal for a decade, but that was no reason an officer could arrest a driver until July 2020. Texting became a primary offense along with the state made it an offense to use a cell phone in a vehicle for any reason other than an emergency or to make a phone call. Several cities in South Dakota have also banned texting while driving over the past decade.
South Dakota experienced a high-profile distracted driving death in September 2020 when Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg punched and killed pedestrian Joe Boever near Highmore. Ravnsborg went on to indisputably plead two offenses of illegal lane changing and using a cell phone while driving. He was fined but did not serve any prison term; Ravnsborg is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the South Dakota House of Representatives.
Miller and other law enforcement experts recognize that it is difficult to enforce laws against texting or other distracted driving because drivers can hide their behaviors.
In 2019, South Dakota Highway Patrollers issued 51 citations and 56 text-while-driving warnings, and in 2020, they wrote just 26 tickets and issued 17 warnings, according to state data. The fine is $ 178.50.
âSometimes it’s hard to apply, but when we see it, we apply it,â Miller said.
Yet state statistics for cell phone use in car crashes likely underestimate the actual number of times a driver has been distracted by a phone or whatever.
“Unless someone involved in an accident admits to using their cell phone, sometimes it’s hard to tell,” said Tony Mangan, spokesperson for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
Distracted driving has been a contributing factor in 78 fatalities in South Dakota over the past decade, with cell phone use being directly linked to 13 of those fatalities.
In fiscal 2020, seven of 132 fatal crashes in South Dakota, or about 4.8% of the total, were related to distracted driving. In fiscal 2019, distracted driving was a factor in only three fatal crashes, or about 3.4% of the total that year.
Alcohol consumption, the easiest factor to confirm, had the highest rate of contribution to fatalities in 2020.
The city of Sioux Falls has an ordinance prohibiting composing, reading or sending text messages while driving or in traffic, according to Sam Clemens, public information officer for the Sioux Falls Police Department.
Clemens said some people have tried to continue using their phones, but in a way that makes it harder for officers to see.
“The law has forced some people to hide their phones, putting it on their knees rather than holding it by the steering wheel,” Clemens said.
Still, the city has issued 457 tickets to drivers violating the local texting ban and 24 more tickets for violating the cell phone law since 2013, according to police department data.
Certain uses of the phone, such as making a call, talking on the phone, or using it in an emergency, remain legal, Clements said, adding to the difficulty for officers to pass judgment on potential violations.
Officers can’t just pick up the person’s phone and examine it without probable cause or warrant, Clemens said.
âIt’s someone’s personal property,â he said. “You must be seeing someone on this phone, and there must be something other than making a call, so it’s a tough law to enforce.”
Even with this targeted app, officers wrote a limited number of tickets, Clemens said.
âIt took a lot of time and manpower to do this, and I don’t know if it made a big difference,â he said.
Derek Mann is an Accident Reconstruction Expert for the Rapid City Police Department who spent several years as a highway patroller and accident expert.
Mann said distracted driving remains common and can easily be seen on the roads and especially at the scene of accidents caused by distracted driving.
âI see people on their phones all the time because it’s my work environment, so that’s what I’m looking for,â he said. âI see distracted driving all the time here in Rapid City, especially in rear-end collisions. “
Mann said he understands the temptation to use a cell phone while driving, especially in parts of South Dakota where travel times are long and the highways are flat and straight.
âIt’s tempting to look at your phone when you are on the freeway next to Presho and there is nothing to look at except fields,â he said.
Mann said teens and young adults may find it more difficult than most to spend time behind the wheel and not use their cell phones, which are actually small computers that can perform many functions beyond the speech.
Drivers aged 19 to 24 are six times more likely than all drivers to read a text or email, and twice as likely as all drivers to write, according to a 2019 AAA survey in South Dakota. or send a test message or e-mail while driving. .
âFacebook, Snapchat, Instagram, all the different social media, not to mention text messaging, they are so interconnected with their cellphones that they are a part of it,â he said.
Mann, who has two adult children, said he was amazed at how quickly young people can type a text message. But even the fastest typist can’t do it safely while driving, he said.
âThey can do it while they’re driving and it might take three seconds, but during those three seconds at 75 mph you’re running at 90 feet per second, so things get to you quickly,â he said.
Mann said drivers should make smart decisions about cell phone use before they cause an accident that changes their lives and the lives of others forever.
âIt only takes a second and the next thing you know is you’re in a serious accident or something even worse,â he said. âThe worst part of this job, and I’ve been doing it for years, there is nothing worse for an officer to knock on the door and tell a loved one someone died in an accident. In their lives and in our lives, I will always be that guy who told them that their son or daughter or husband or wife died in an accident.