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National group ranks South Dakota low in highway safety

The cover of the new annual report from Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety.
The cover of the new annual report from Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recently released an annual report for 2022 grading states on 16 laws, and South Dakota earned a spot near the bottom with six laws passed from the recommended list.

The report said the state lacks key laws on child passenger safety, distracted driving, impaired driving and occupant protection, among others.

Tim Walburg is the Lake County sheriff and president of the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association. He said passing new regulations or increasing fees is difficult because so much of South Dakota is rural, where people perceive less of a need for highway safety laws. State officials said 96 percent of driving in the state is on rural roadways.

"There’s a lot of folks that think the seat belt laws, the fines are not high enough [and] they should be higher like other states," Walburg said. "Is that going to curb the non-seat belt usage? I don’t know.”

Walburg said his county works with the state to broadcast public safety announcements. They target speeding, teen driving education, and distracted driving. But Walburg said it's difficult to turn messaging into action.

"Maybe some more initiative or changing up the public service announcement needs to happen more," Walburg said. "It’s all about getting people to pay attention to what that particular law is, and how the safety regulations could actually affect them and save their families should they be in a crash.”   

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the report, but Amanda Hossel, director of the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety, agreed to speak about highway safety in general.

“The biggest thing is to educate the public, and it’s a shared responsibility between our department, other state agencies and motorists out on the roadway to be safe drivers out there," Hossel said.

Traffic fatalities in South Dakota increased from 102 in 2019 to 141 in 2020.

Laura (she/her) is based at the Sioux Falls Studio. She is a journalism/anthropology student at Augustana University.