Distracted driving is a growing problem in South Dakota and across the nation. Each year, the CDC publishes distracted driving facts showing alarming increases in the number of motorists injured or killed annually in car accidents that involved distracted drivers.

Cell phone use continues to be the primary impetus for accidents but all forms of distraction while behind the wheel place drivers, their passengers and others on the roads at risk.

South Dakota’s existing texting and driving rules are among the weakest in the nation. They do not prohibit any non-texting driving distractions and are difficult to enforce. Even when they can be enforced, the established penalties are relatively mild and have done little to change motorist behavior. Some South Dakota cities have enacted their own driving laws in an attempt to reduce local accidents.

What is distracted driving in South Dakota?

More than 1,000 distracted driving accidents occurred in South Dakota in 2016. Unlike some states, South Dakota does not have an official definition in place that underpins its laws against distracted driving. Authorities do, however, acknowledge the many and varied causes of distractions while driving. These include both cell phone use while driving in all its forms and non-device-related distractions.

Examples of common non-device distractions include eating or grooming while driving, unsafe interactions with passengers and even seemingly minor activities such as fiddling with the radio or stereo, searching for items in a glove compartment and anything else that takes a driver’s attention and control away from driving.

Distracted Driving Laws in South Dakota for Handheld Devices

South Dakota only has laws about texting while driving and does not specify other distractive practices. No penalties are in place for any other form of cell phone distraction or non-device distractions while driving.

Texting and Driving Laws in South Dakota

A texting and driving ticket in South Dakota is rarely enforced. This is primarily because the state’s texting while driving laws are what are referred to as “secondary” laws. This means that law enforcement cannot pull drivers over solely for the purpose of ticketing them for operating a vehicle while texting. Officers must have some other legal cause to stop a motorist, such as erratic driving or speeding.

In an attempt to stop distracted driving, several of South Dakota’s largest cities have passed local legislation upgrading texting to a primary offense. This allows police to stop drivers and issue tickets for texting without any other cause.

Unfortunately, the situation remains complicated by the fact that talking on the phone while driving remains legal. In order to issue tickets, law enforcement must be able to reasonably prove that violators were texting rather than engaged in any other form of activity on their devices.

South Dakota Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

South Dakota motorists holding learner’s permits or intermediate drivers licenses are not permitted to use cell phones while driving, except for non-interactive purposes such as GPS services. No other special or supplemental distracted driving law or conditions apply to novice drivers on a state or local basis.

South Dakota Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

No texting and driving or distracted driving rules apply to commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders in South Dakota aside from the universal ban on texting while driving. However, as with all other drivers, the ban is difficult to adequately enforce among CDL drivers due to the fact that they are legally allowed to use their devices for non-texting purposes while driving.

Distracted Driving Penalties in South Dakota

Existing texting and driving fines in South Dakota are meager at best. Even when texting can be proven and tickets are issued, they are considered petty offenses with limited consequences beyond the fines.

However, in early 2018, legislation was introduced at the state level to increase the consequences for distracted driving. Under the proposal, fines would increase five-fold. Violations would also be reclassified as class two misdemeanors, which could potentially carry jail time. It is important to note, that the proposed legislation does not address other forms of distracted driving nor impose additional limitations on novice or CDL drivers.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in South Dakota

South Dakota motorists looking for ways to prevent texting and driving and all distraction while driving in general, will find that there are many simple and inexpensive options for making themselves safer drivers. Examples include:

  • Keep the vehicle clean and organized. Vehicles that are clear of debris and in which sunglasses and other tools are consistently and securely stored in the same places will have far fewer distractions while driving than drivers in messy or chaotic vehicles.
  • Plan sufficient preparation and transit time. Motorists who do not give themselves enough time to prepare for or reach the places they need to go are more likely than others to attempt grooming tasks while driving or to call ahead to inform someone they will be late. Planning enough time into one’s schedule can result in less harried, more focused and safer driving.
  • Purchase hands-free devices. Hands-free devices do not have to be expensive and can significantly reduce driving distractions and accidents.
  • Prepare before driving. Motorists can reduce distractions by taking a few moments to set themselves up for success before beginning to drive. For example, motorists who need money for tolls on their trip should get it out and ready so they are not fumbling for a wallet later while driving. Drivers who will need to use their devices for GPS navigation while driving should set them up before putting their vehicles in gear.
Last updated on Friday, March 15 2019.

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