NORTH SIOUX CITY -- Several Union County residents said Tuesday they frequently see drivers around them texting while driving, including one who said family members do it, so they favor a tougher law going into effect.
"It is terrible that people would do that, it is clueless. It is common sense, a 2-year-old would know that," said Irene Harrington, of North Sioux City.
On Wednesday, law enforcement personnel in South Dakota for the first time can immediately pull motorists over and write a ticket upon seeing a person texting while driving.
In recent years, South Dakota police and deputies could not pull people over for texting while driving, as the person first had to be breaking some other traffic law. After the 2020 legislation that was signed into law, now doing several functions on a mobile device while driving moves from a secondary to a primary offense, giving officers more latitude to enforce laws designed to reduce distracted driving and save lives.
Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges, who has been sheriff for 30 years, said texting while driving remains a problem, and he supports the new law.
"It is pretty ugly when (drivers) drift over in the lane, or to the shoulder," Limoges said.
The new law also expands banned phone uses to include taking photos, using the internet, posting to social media, reading emails and using phone apps.
The law makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to use a cellphone while driving, except in an emergency or to use a GPS app or to read or enter a phone number. Drivers who talk on the phone will need to either use a hands-free mode or hold the phone up to their ear. The offense carries a $122 fine.
According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, there were 827 crashes last year where distracted driving with cellphones and other electronic devices was a contributing factor.
Keith Vollstedt, of Dakota Dunes, is a general surgeon who handles some trauma cases. He said when the injuries come from a wreck, he'll wonder if they were from distracted driving, such as using a mobile device.
Vollstedt said there is an urge to read a text message while driving, but replying is a road too far, although he added his adult children do that.
"It is just a temptation to text a reply. It takes your eyes off the road," said Vollstedt, who joined Harrington in knowing the law starts Wednesday.
In Iowa, the first law aiming to address texting while driving came in 2010. Iowa moved texting while driving to a primary offense in 2017, three years before South Dakota.
Limoges said county deputies will give tickets in line with the new law, when "it is a clear cut violation." He said it is "going to be a challenge" to enforce the law, as some people may fight the tickets, so Limoges said deputies using dashcams to take video of the misdeeds might be beneficial.
Harrington doubts she'll ever feel the need to send a text message on her phone: "I leave my phone in the purse on the (vehicle) floor."
Hellen Buchholz, of North Sioux City, is another supporter of the new law. Buchholz said if while driving her phone beeps in with a message, she will have a passenger in the car, such as a granddaughter, read it out loud to her.
"There are too many people who die," Buchholz said.
"I see a lot of people texting. I think of it as more of a younger (person) thing."