Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Do It Just Because We Can

I am on the fence on this latest push to ban texting at the local level. It is not that I am opposed to the idea. In fact quite a long time ago I made the personal decision that I would not text while I was driving my car. I made that personal decision because I believed it was a safety issue and I knew that texting while driving was a clear, inherent danger not only to myself but to innocent people around me.  Remember the Oprah Challenge?

Our cell phones have become an obsession. Why is it that we think just because we hear a ringtone that it must be answered at that very instant?

37 states have passed texting ban legislation. Are we surprised that South Dakota isn't one of them? South Dakota is the personal freedom state, except when it comes to women's issues and bedroom issues, but that is a blog for another time.

It is impressive that 16 corporations and institutions have endorsed the effort of the Citizens for Cell Phone Safety While Driving. I wonder if they were just as passionate about their endorsement at the state level in communicating their positions to state legislators.

Do we really want to have the city council establish a local ordinance on something that should be dealt with at the state level just because we can?  Just because our home rule charter allows us to pass this legislation doesn't mean we should do it.

 I find Councilor Erpenbach's position curious:
Sioux Falls City Councilor Michelle Erpenbach said it’s time for Sioux Falls to look at addressing the distracted-driving issue. Although the issue has failed in the Legislature, Erpenbach thinks it would be easier to pass at the city level because fewer votes are needed, and the council is open-minded and willing to take a risk.“There’s a risk that we’re maybe legislating too far, but at what point do we decide we’re going to do it anyway because we need to make a difference,” she said. “At least we’re having the conversation, we’re at a point where this is craziness, this stuff we’re doing when we drive.”

I commend the Citizens for Cell Phone Safety While Driving for continuing to push this agenda. I just think this agenda needs to be pushed at the state level, not at the local level. To pass an ordinance in Sioux Falls because our home rule charter makes it easier doesn't make it right. Ok, it has failed twice, but go back and try again. Don't take the seemingly easy way out and target home rule cities to get this done. That is a patchwork way of getting this done.

This is a state-wide issue, not a local issue. To me there is a clear delineation on what should be legislated at the state level and what should be legislated at the local level.  It isn't just texting in a car that causes accidents. How far are you willing to go? Eating in your car, talking on a cell phone, reading a map, changing radio stations, talking to your children and other passengers, reading something in your car, listening to an audio book are all examples of distracted driving. 

To pass a local ordinance makes Sioux Falls an island and puts law enforcement in a very difficult position to enforce it. Distracted driving falls under the reckless driving statute already. So, Councilor Erpenbach is excited about taking a risk and wanting to make a difference on this issue. Good for her. I just think she and the rest of the council can high five each other and then calm down and think about whether this is the right issue to legislate locally. I suggest they listen to their Police Chief on this matter and channel their energy into getting this issue legislated state wide.

If the City Council wants to take a stand, pass a resolution that states your position on distracted driving. Put together an education campaign through Channel 16, press releases and press conferences to educate the public on the dangers of texting while driving and OTHER distracted driving activities. There are others ways to make a difference locally to stop the "craziness, this stuff we're doing when we drive" than to pass a local ordinance. All it takes is little thinking outside the box instead of passing local legislation just because it's easier.


  1. The texting ban is the RIGHT thing to do but the City of Sioux Falls is the WRONG governmental agency to do it. This is a State issue.

  2. Another right on blog.. I wish you were on the Council.

  3. Regulating texting sounds like a good idea on a theoretical level. However it has all kinds of enforcement issues. Unless a passenger in the care testifies against the driver, in most situations there will be no evidence. This is not the kind of activity that is carried out where a law enforcement officer has a clear view of what is happening.
    If a driver has an accident while driving a car, there are already enough laws on the book to cover almost any situation. Trust me on this one. I was a Municipal Prosecutor in a similar sized city for many years.
    We live in a country where we love to propose new laws and then feel good about ourselves. In most cases no additional laws are needed.

  4. I think trying to ask law enforcement agencies (SFPD) to patrol for "texters" is ridiculous. These agencies are already stretched far too thin as it is, here, and nationally... Our local officers in the Traffic Division are over-tasked, and the patrolmen assigned to the districts in Sioux Falls are dealing with the increasing number of calls every year,leaving them little time for this type of thing. Consider this; ALL mobile phones now have GPS capability. It would be far more realistic to have Congress enact a law stating that all cell phone CARRIERS disable all texting capabilities when they a phone is travelling over 15 MPH, which is often the activation speed of an airbag during a collision. That would potentially save countless lives, and up to billions of dollars when you consider the cost of an emergency response to an incident, the cost of injury, property damage,funerals for morons,and YOUR personal increase in rates to ensure the Insurance companies make their propfit margins. To kill a weed, you have to get to the root, not just clip the leaves. Ya know, just sayin'... (I love the blog, Jen. Keep up the awesome work.)