South Dakota Distracted Driving

A Guide to South Dakota's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

South Dakota Distracted Driving

There are roughly 30,000 car accidents every year in South Dakota. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that takes a driver’s attention off the primary task of operating a vehicle. While most people think only of cell phone use when thinking of distracted driving, these devices only account for about 10% of all distracted driving accidents. Common distractions include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Being sidetracked by pets or cranky children in the car
  • Picking up dropped objects
  • Adjusting the radio or A/C
  • Daydreaming
  • Looking at distractions outside the car, like an accident, or a cow
  • Paying attention to a GPS or other navigational device

Though most distractions are 100% legal, they still present a hazard and should be minimized or avoided whenever possible. In South Dakota, state law is focused mainly on the risk of texting while driving, leaving other distractions unchecked.

Distracted Driving Statistics in South Dakota

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in South Dakota:

  • Talking on a cell phone reduces a driver's reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, the legal limit for driving.
  • In 2016, there were more than 1,000 distracted driving accidents in South Dakota.
  • Texting while driving laws are rarely enforced in this state.
  • South Dakota’s existing distracted driving laws are some of the weakest in the nation.

Does South Dakota Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

But when it comes to distracted driving laws, South Dakota is a bit late to the game. The first law banning text messaging while driving didn't even go into effect until July 2014; and despite attempts to pass a law banning the use of handheld devices while driving, it's still legal in the state.

Currently, South Dakota’s distracted driving law has the following prohibitions:

  • Reading, writing, and sending text messages or emails is prohibited for all drivers.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 with restricted licenses or learner’s permits are prohibited from using any type of handheld wireless device.

While handheld cell phone use is legal statewide, several cities in the state have enacted their own laws making it illegal. These cities have signs posted informing drivers of the law when they drive into the city limits. They include:

  • Aberdeen
  • Box Elder
  • Brookings
  • Huron
  • Mitchell
  • Rapid City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Vermillion
  • Watertown

South Dakota compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona; however, in 2021, Arizona will roll out new cell phone restriction laws, leaving Montana the last in line.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in South Dakota?

Yes.

Like:

  • Drivers under 18 may use GPS systems or their phones as navigational devices, as long as they are not being used interactively.
  • Texting is allowed when using voice-to-text hands-free technology.

South Dakota Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                               X
Is handheld device use permitted?                X 
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                  
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X                   

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in South Dakota?

Yes. And no.  It depends on where you're driving.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard and should be avoided.

So, what happens if a police officer in South Dakota spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? That depends on where you are. 

While there is no statewide law prohibiting eating while driving, Huron, SD has made eating and other distracting behaviors like putting on makeup illegal. This city enforces it’s eating ban with what's called secondary enforcement.

No matter where you're driving, be aware that even legal distractions (like talking with passengers or adjusting the radio station) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, and these are actions that can earn you a citation.

Unless you are really in a hurry, you’d probably be better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

South Dakota uses secondary enforcement.

This means that even if a police officer sees you blatantly thumbing a text message while you're driving, they can't cite you for it unless you lose control of your car or commit some type of moving violation while doing so. This makes enforcement of the law more difficult than in most states.

But remember all of those individual cities we mentioned earlier, with their own laws? They use primary enforcement. So either make sure you're familiar with the laws of the cities you'll be driving through, or get your car all souped up with some hands-free technology.

Hands-free technology, though still a distraction, is safer, and it makes talking on the phone while driving legal in most places in the United States.

What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in South Dakota?

In South Dakota, texting while driving is considered a petty offense and comes with a $100 fine, regardless of the number of previous offenses a driver has had.

South Dakotas's fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

South Dakotas's fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

Keep in mind the amount you'll be expected to pay is often higher than the fine, since court costs and fees are typically added in.

Does Distracted Driving in South Dakota Increase Insurance Rates?

Yes.

Because of the secondary enforcement laws, if you're cited for distracted driving in South Dakota, that means that you also committed a moving violation while you were distracted. This will be reported to your insurance company and you can expect your rates to go up as a result.

The amount your rate will increase depends on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In South Dakota, distracted driving citations cause rates to go up an average of about $325 a year.  So you really have to ask yourself whether that text message was really worth it.

And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to it, and the lower rates that come with it. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary by state so if you drive into a neighboring state with different laws, make sure you follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!

Minnesota recently passed a hands-free law that prohibits the use of handheld cell phones. Does this mean that if you're holding your phone to your ear on a call as you drive across the border you're breaking the law?  Yes, it sure does. In order to avoid a potential ticket, you'll need to end the call immediately.

Next door in Montana there are no distracted driving laws on the books at all.  Does this mean that you can text, watch videos, and post to social media, all while driving down the road in Montana?  Yes, you can, but why would you? Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It's better to be safe than sorry.

What Is South Dakota Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Right now, with its lax laws, low fines, and secondary enforcement requirement, South Dakota’s distracted driving laws are fairly weak compared with most other states. But some lawmakers are attempting to change this.

In early February 2019, State Rep. Doug Barthel introduced a bill that would make distracted driving a Class 2 misdemeanor, prohibit the use of handheld cell phones, significantly raise the fine for breaking the law, and change the law to primary enforcement. While the bill did move on to the Senate, it did not pass.

Further attempts to pass such a law are expected in the future.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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https://dps.sd.gov/records/accident-records/sdcat

http://www.southdakotasafetycouncil.org/traffic/DistractedDrivingComprehensiveResources.cfm

https://www.dmv.com/sd/south-dakota/distracted-driving-laws