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SF Officers To Focus On Distracted Drivers

Kealey Bultena
Sioux Falls leaders plan to place nearly 50 signs around the city to discourage texting.

People who don’t pay attention while driving in Sioux Falls are now more likely to be pulled over. City officials are teaming up with the police department on a campaign to curb distracted driving. State law bans texting while behind the wheel across South Dakota. Now Sioux Falls leaders are looking beyond cell phones.

Members of the Sioux Falls City Council are dedicating $50,000 toward keeping drivers focused on the road. The “Save a life. Save it for later.” campaign includes spring and summer saturation patrols in which police officers specifically target people distracted while driving.

Assistant police chief Galen Smidt says officials are not patrolling so they can write more tickets.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Assistant Police Chief Galen Smidt details how authorities plan to handle saturation patrols for distracted driving.

"In any enforcement action that we take, it’s for compliance. So we actually have some cards that we’re going to hand out on every single contact that we make that’s applicable to distracted driving. These are going to go to the drivers," Smidt says. "They may or may not get a ticket, but they’re all going to get one of these cards and just get them to think about what they’re doing."

Authorities say the most glaring example of distracted driving consequences in Sioux Falls is a 2012 crash that killed a motorcyclist. The driver who hit the man admitted to texting while driving.

City councilor Rick Kiley says he hopes police efforts plus new signs, billboards, and public service announcements prompt people to pay attention. 

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Sioux Falls City Councilor Rick Kiley

"I really do believe that it is approaching an epidemic. I mean, all of us can drive home from this session, and I would wager that you could probably count six or seven individuals that have some form of distraction taking place around them – whether it’s a phone or they’re eating their burger or whatever it might be," Kiley says.

Kiley says crashes and other incidents like road rage that are related to distracted driving are all preventable.

City councilor Christine Erickson says the campaign is a public service, because texting while driving is banned in Sioux Falls and across South Dakota.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Sioux Falls City Councilor Christine Erickson

"It’s just really important as we have the laws in place that we need to be educating people on it. You know, the seat belt law would not be where it is today without all the education that went behind it, and people were resistant to that at the time," Erickson says. "And it’s creating that culture of making a common sense decision to wait until you get to your destination."

The City Council approved the $50,000 amendment to the police department's budget last fall to provide funds for the anti-distracted driving effort.

Across the state in Rapid City, no dedicated funding currently supports enforcement for distracted driving, but officers in the police department’s traffic unit patrol for the same violations. Community relations specialist Brendyn Medina says that’s true especially in school zones, where cell phone use and other distractions can contribute to speeding, stopping in crosswalks, or other unsafe maneuvers.

Medina says Rapid City officers have seen people putting on makeup or shaving in the rear-view mirror while they drive. The department encourages people to stop doing things that take their attention away from driving and to avoid using cell phones while behind the wheel.

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