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South Dakota primes for texting and driving ban

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A law that would make texting while driving illegal in South Dakota still awaits the governor's signature, but the state Department of Public Safety is already talking about a public awareness campaign.

Lee Axdahl, the director of the office of highway safety, says the state already has some materials to warn against texting and driving. He has been in touch with an advertising agency in Sioux Falls to discuss a campaign on the pending ban.

"We recognize in our office that cellphones and texting are a piece of the distracted driving equation," Axdahl said. "The ban will put into statute something that we have been doing out of this office for several years."

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has expressed general support for a texting while driving ban. The Legislature already approved the proposal.

It would make texting while driving a secondary offence. People pulled over for other traffic infractions could be charged an additional $100 if they were also texting.

The state spends about $1 million a year on safety campaigns, including announcements that air on television and radio. The ads target seat belt compliance, as well as drunken and distracted driving.

"The main safety concern about any distraction is your hands, your eyes, your mind," Axdahl said. That's a theme beneath all of the distracted driving outreach, although the department has not settled on a specific message for a possible texting and driving campaign.

Kathy Askew teaches driver's education at the Capital University Center in Pierre, and she shows that kind of anti-texting public service announcement to her students every day.

"Of course they all say they're not going to, but I know better than that," Askew said.

Askew said the texting ban is a good idea, and she'll be interested to see how it plays out.

John Sterling, the manager of Wireless World in Pierre, agreed. He primarily uses hands free technology to access his cellphone in the car. The proposed texting ban protects people using their phones with voice activation.

"They're not going to catch everyone who does it," Sterling said. "Therefore, it's probably going to be overlooked by some. But others, once they hear it's a law, they may not do it."

The bill specifically calls on the state to educate people about the change in law, which would take effect July 1. Axdahl and other Public Safety Department staff will do just that with their campaign.

"We're prepared to sit down and see what it's going to take," Axdahl said. "If it does get signed into law, we would talk about the fact that it would be illegal."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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