The Sioux Falls City Council unanimously passed a new ordinance this past Tuesday. The ordinance bans sending and receiving text messages while operating a vehicle within the city limits. With this ordinance a person can be fined up to $200.00 and 30 days in jail. This ordinance focuses solely on texting. Making phone calls, using GPS navigation and hands free devices are still legal within the city limits. The new ordinance is to take effect on September 28th.
From a legal standpoint there are several things to look at. Our Paralegal Program Chair discussed the ban and shared her thoughts.
“There are strong opinions on both sides of the ban. Opponents of the ban point to the inconsistency of enforcement of the texting ban. The ticket will rely initially on the officer’s observation. It is also a primary offense, which indicates that without being suspected of any other criminal activity, a driver may be pulled over if the officer believes he/she is texting or surfing the internet. Thus, there is concern by some criminal defense attorneys that this “opens” the door for the officers to pull over any driver, whether or not they are committing a crime. Arguably if a driver is looking down (i.e. at the radio, picking up a drink) the officer could “suspect” the driver of texting. Opponents also point out that there are already laws that make careless driving or reckless driving a crime. Thus, distracted driving is already punishable. It will be difficult for an officer to tell if a person is texting or dialing his/her phone. Under the law, it is arguable that dialing a phone is not prohibited under the texting ban. Last year, a similar ban on texting failed to pass in the State Legislature.
Obviously, the major argument for the texting ban is the accidents that are related to texting and driving. Recently an individual was killed and a young adult was charged in the death because he is accused of texting and driving. He currently is in custody awaiting the outcome of his case.
Other opponents are against the ban because the ban only addressed texting and use of the internet. Those opponents believe that a ban on all cell phone use while driving is the better option. Thus, the ban would address all use and would be easier to enforce.”