By Andrew Ganz
Tuesday, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 1:52 pm
 

A small South Dakota city has approved a blanket statement in what might be the strictest measures yet in an effort to crack down on distracted driving.

In addition to banning all drivers from sending text messages while driving, Huron, South Dakota's mayor says that a new ordinance could potentially fine drivers $15 for eating food or reading a newspaper behind the wheel.

Drivers who are caught texting while behind the wheel will be subject to a larger $100 fine.

Huron mayor Dave McGirr confirmed to the media that the ordinance will go into effect early next year, although a grace period will be observed in order to ensure that drivers in the rural city of about 12,000 residents will be familiar with the law.

The ordinance defines distracted driving as "inattentive driving while operating a motor vehicle... 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."

The vague last line is a blanket clause inserted in response to an incident involving a driver who was eating a pizza slice when he ran a stop sign and hit a child on a bicycle.

The child wasn't seriously injured, but the incident prompted Huron police chief Gary Will to push for a blanket law to discourage distracted driving.

The driver, Will says, was so distracted that "he had no idea he had hit anybody or that there was even a bicycle under his car while he was driving."

Drawn up by the city's safety committee, the new law is strict by design. Last month, the city's council rejected a distracted driving law that would have applied only to school bus drivers with children aboard, novice drivers and drivers under 18. At the time, the Huron City Council said that the law was too loose.

Safety committee member and police chief Gary Will said at the time that the city studied hundreds of laws already enacted elsewhere.

"There were some things that we saw that were common and that's what we put into our recommendation."

California has a similarly loosely-defined distracted driving regulation that fines drivers engaged in "wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property."

The California Highway Patrol typically only enforces the law when drivers are caught using cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices, but the blanket statement can also be used to stop drivers who are distracted by eating food behind the wheel.