A new South Dakota bill, HB 1088, would extend distracted driving laws to include a larger number of devices and activities beyond text messaging alone. While the law seems to include reasonable exceptions, the language is still ambiguous in parts. Stiffer penalties for distracted driving would also be imposed, including a $500 to up to 6 months in jail. Some South Dakota drivers are nervous about what the implications would be if this law passes. Let’s take a closer look at the proposed law and what it means for South Dakota drivers.
The law hinges on limiting the ability of drivers to use “mobile electronic devices”. But what counts under the definition of such devices? First, anything that can be used to text or communicate with another person would be considered a mobile electronic device. If it plays video or displays images, can be easily removed from the vehicle, and is used for communication, it counts under the law’s definition. In fact, section one includes a definition that states a “mobile device with a touchscreen display that is designed to be worn” can also count, which seems to include Apple watches and similar devices. However, there are some exceptions to the law.
Law enforcement officials, emergency medical support, first responders, firefighters, and “operators of authorized emergency vehicles” are all considered exceptions under this law. In other words, if you fit one of these categories, your job or task likely depends on utilizing mobile communication devices, so you are exempt. If you need to contact emergency resources, report a crime or an emergency, or are dealing with an unsafe situation and you need help, you can also use your cell phone to obtain that help (or any other device). The functioning of an in-dash GPS unit is also allowed so long as you aren’t programming it with your hands while you’re driving. If the unit is simply reading off instructions and you’re using your voice commands, you’re within your rights. Also, using a voice operated feature on any device is okay as long as you don’t have to use your hands to turn the feature on and off.
Currently, it can hurt your driving record and cost you anywhere from $50 to $100 if you text and drive. However, if House Bill 1088 passes, it would make what is now a minor violation a Class 2 misdemeanor. The new penalty for texting and driving could include a $500 fine and six months in jail. Many support the bill and say that distracted driving needs to be more harshly penalized. However, with so much ambiguity and with a low likelihood of being pulled over due to other laws on the books, is the law unfair?
As the current law stands in South Dakota, it’s unlikely that many people will be pulled over. While some say that fact makes the law ineffective, others are concerned that it will unfairly impact the unlucky few who do get pulled over. With so much ambiguity remaining in the law, many South Dakota drivers are on edge. For instance, the law seems to exclude the use of smart watches, but does it exclude the wearing of those watches altogether or just the functions that require the use of the wearer’s hands? What constitutes an emergency situation? Until some of these terms are defined and the ambiguities are addressed, many South Dakota drivers will likely be concerned about how the bill would affect them if it becomes law.
If you’re charged with distracted driving in South Dakota, it’s important to consult with a traffic attorney to make sure you have the best defense possible. Having competent legal help will become even more important if HB 1088 goes into effect given the ambiguities in the law and the statistical lack of consistency where traffic stops are concerned. Don’t try to navigate the legal waters by yourself. Instead, turn to a qualified and experienced South Dakota traffic attorney who can help you defend yourself and avoid serious ramifications.