Statewide ban on texting while driving passes committee

South Dakota senators endorsed a statewide ban on texting while driving Friday.

Advocates including law enforcement, insurance companies, the state’s cities and victims of car crashes where texting was involved all urged adoption of the ban in more than an hour of sometimes-emotional testimony.

“It is time something gets done so maybe another family won’t have to go through this pain,” said Janean Christensen, whose husband Jon was killed by a texting driver.

That driver, Justin Iburg, 22, of Mitchell, also testified before the committee, urging passage of the ban.

After passing the Senate’s transportation committee, the ban now heads to the full Senate, which must pass or defeat the proposal by Wednesday afternoon.

Opponents said the exiting careless driving law was enough to handle drivers distracted by text messages.

“I think enforcement is difficult,” said Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls. “I think we have an existing careless driving law that we need to boost the fine on and stop it that way.”

But Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, and other supporters said enforcing the texting ban isn’t the point of the proposed law.

“I’m going to be the first one here to admit it’s going to be difficult to enforce,” Vehle said. “To me, it’s not about tickets, it’s not about fines. It’s about a culture of not texting and driving.”

Five members of the committee voted to pass the texting while driving ban: Sens. Bob Ewing, Shantel Krebs, Larry Lucas, Ernie Otten and Vehle. Two voted no: Omdahl and Sen. Jeff Monroe.