Penalizing Texting and Emailing While Driving in South Dakota – Updated

Let’s look at House Bill 1178, shall we?

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to prohibit the use of certain wireless communications devices while driving.
Section 1. That chapter 32-24 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, the term, wireless communications device, means a hand-held cellular phone or a portable electronic device that is capable of receiving and transmitting data, including text messages and e-mail. The term does not include a device that is permanently affixed to the vehicle, or a global positioning system or navigation system, if the system is used exclusively for navigation purposes.

Section 2. That chapter 32-24 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

No person may operate a motor vehicle upon a highway while the person is using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message. A person who violates this section is guilty of careless driving with a wireless communications device. Careless driving with a wireless communications device is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Section 3. That chapter 32-24 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

The provisions of this Act do not apply to any person operating an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in § 32-14-1.

A few thoughts come to mind.

  1. If texting/emailing while driving is bad for those who are otherwise obeying the laws, one might be forgiven for thinking that it would be worse for those who are operating “authorized emergency vehicle[s]” seeing that they are often driving under greater pressure and at greater speeds than the average driver upon the road.
  2. How in the world will the act of messaging (as it is often called) be differentiated from the act of calling? Will officers of the law be trained on all the different mobile devices so they can tell the difference between a person typing in a phone number and the same person typing in a short text?
  3. If a person claims he or she was not texting while driving, will the officer be authorized to secure the phone and determine from the logs when the last texting occurred? Will the officer be trained in knowing the difference between a text/email that was received and read, and one which was simply received but not read? How will the officer know if the text/email was read by a passenger in the same vehicle and not the driver?
  4. Is the holder of the device to forfeit all expectations of privacy while the officer examines the phone to determine possible text/email violations? With this in mind, will the officer be permitted to look at content of text messages/emails? By so doing, will the officer be permitted to use the existence of a “sext” (for example) as probable cause for violations of other laws?
  5. Where does TTL fall under this provision? It does not appear to be excluded.

Now, on to the behavior which this bill, if passed into law, is intended to prevent. Is texting while driving wise? No. Is eating while driving wise? No. Is watching a child in the rearview mirror while talking to them while driving wise? No. Is doing just about anything while driving (but driving) wise? No.

That aside, we should have laws which punish crimes–not foolishness. Current careless driving laws are more than sufficient to address those drive carelessly–regardless of the cause.


The bill has died in Housero. Most excellent news.