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City proposes ban on texting and driving

Posted: Wednesday, Nov 21st, 2012

HURON — Driving while texting would be against the law in the city of Huron under a proposed new ordinance to be considered by the City Commission next Monday.

City Attorney Gerry Kaufman will also draft specific language regarding a distracted driving ordinance that would be a secondary enforcement law similar to the seat belt law.

Commissioners heard a report from Police Chief Gary Will Jr. on Monday regarding recommendations from the city’s Public Safety Committee, which has been studying a texting ban.

A larger issue is distracted driving, which covers other dangerous habits like eating while driving, putting on makeup or even reading a newspaper or book.

The committee’s proposal was to make distracted driving a secondary offense if a driver was pulled over for doing something else wrong like speeding, running a stop light or stop sign or swerving in and out of traffic.

“Distracted driving is really the issue,” Will said. “We are punishing only those people who are driving poorly if we enact this ordinance.”

He said most people act responsibly while driving and dealing with day-to-day distractions. The committee recommended enacting a law that only punishes those who are not acting responsibly and are distracted to the point that they are committing unsafe acts behind the wheel.

But commissioners, led by Mayor David McGirr, said they think texting while driving should be a primary offense, meaning police officers could pull someone over for that regardless of any other infractions.

Other South Dakota cities have taken similar action with the hope that state legislators, after a few tries, will finally enact a state law against texting and driving in the upcoming session.

Will researched hundreds of laws from across the country regarding texting and driving and found a wide array of approaches.

Commissioners will also move forward with the distracted driving law as a secondary offense. A driver would only be stopped if they were violating other traffic laws that result in unsafe operations.

If a person had expired license plates and is on the phone, he or she could only be stopped and cited for the license plates since that is not an unsafe operational issue, Will said.

The ordinance will also address young drivers with restricted learner’s permits, making distracted driving a primary law because of a lack of experience in driving a vehicle.

Those driving school buses with passengers would also be prohibited from talking on the phone or texting. An exception for any driver would be if they were calling 911.

The texting or distracted driving ordinances would not apply unless the vehicle is moving.

Kaufman was also asked to propose an appropriate penalty for violations.

In the proposed definitions for the ordinance, distracted driving “means inattentive driving while operating a motor vehicle that results in the unsafe operation of the vehicle where such operation is caused by reading, writing, performing personal grooming, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using personal communications technologies or engaging in any other activity which causes distractions.”

Meanwhile, commissioners announced this week’s Thanksgiving holiday schedule for the solid waste department.

It will be closed Thursday for the holiday and Thursday solid waste collection routes will be done on Wednesday. The rubble site will also be closed Saturday. Yard waste collection has ended for the season.

Commissioners also:

• Approved a variance request from Wayne Hofer, Jennifer Hofer and Tom Light to build rental storage units at 64 Second St. N.E.

The lot just north of Fair City Foods has been vacant for 35 years. The applicants said they will clean it up, remove the potholes and construct an attractive building.

• Approved a request from Police Chief Gary Will Jr. to apply for grant funds to buy automatic external defibrillators for the rest of the patrol cars. The department currently has two AEDs.

• Approved a maintenance agreement with HigherGround Inc. for 911 recording system support.

• Approved the regular status of volunteer firefighters James Shoultz and Ben Karr after their six-month probationary period.

• Approved a raffle requested by Central Prairie American Red Cross.

• Set Dec. 3 as the hearing date for 2013 liquor and wine license renewals.

• Approved a change order for Visu-Sewer Inc. of Pewaukee, Wis., for the sewer main lining project. The change will lower the contract by about $25,000. A final payment request of $285,955 was also approved. The company lined three and a half miles of sewer mains this year.

• Approved a $277,687 progress payment request for CB&I Inc. of Clive, Iowa, for work on the north water storage tank.

• Approved a $1.4 million progress payment to vendors involved with the Huron Aquatic Center project.

• Heard a report on the 2011 audited financials.

• Went into executive session on litigation and union negotiation matters and later had a work session to hear a presentation by the Mid-Dakota Rural Water System on recent expansion.

For the complete article see the 11-20-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-20-2012 paper.

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