South Dakota ranks worst in state driving laws in new report

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - A new report from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) has South Dakota's driving laws ranked as the worst in the country.

The report ranks all 50 states based on 16 driving safety laws it says are optimal. South Dakota has just two of those 16.

"Right now the perception is that if it isn't a primary law, it isn't looked at, as seriously," Marilyn Buskohl, of AAA South Dakota said.

Buskohl said many people think that because wearing seat belts is a secondary offense, meaning police have to pull you over for something else first, and then can cite you for not wearing one, people choose not to follow the law.

Tony Mangan of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety estimated about 60 percent of 2017's fatal crashes were due to the victims not wearing seat belts. There are have already been three fatalities -- all not wearing seat belts -- in accidents in 2018.

AHAS is also concerned that South Dakota doesn't require motorcyclists to wear helmets, car seats until age two don't have to be rear-facing, there is no booster seat law for children, the state's minimum age for a learner's permit is under 16, there is no six-month holding period for a license or supervised driving requirement, passenger restriction and no requirement to restrict a license until a driver turns 18. The state also doesn't have ignition interlocking devices (IIDs) for those convicted of driving while intoxicated, texting while driving isn't a primary offense, and the state doesn't have graduated licensing laws for cell phone use.

One thing AHAS said would greatly benefit the state are the ignition interlocking devices.

"IID's literally stop the offender from being able to drive if they've consumed alcohol," Tara Gill, AHAS's Director of State Programs said. "Because the offender has to blow into the device in order for their car to start."

Gill said the organization releases its report each January hoping to spark lawmakers' interest in introducing bills related to driving safety. She said South Dakota has ranked at the bottom of the list for years.

Right now, lawmakers have introduced just one House Bill, H.B. 1008, which aims at creating variable speed limits in areas where road work is happening or during weather events.

Pierre hasn't addressed two of the other concerns in the report in years --- bills for stricter seat belt laws haven't come up since 2011 and a bill for child booster seat laws was introduced in 2015, but didn't get far.

"These types of crashes are preventable with just certain commonsense laws being put on the books," Buskohl said. "So we hope that legislators and their constituents will talk to their legislators about supporting these types of laws because they are important."

But regardless of what happens in Pierre, South Dakota's Department kf Public Safety is making sure overall safety is on everyone's minds. Mangan said they've made a point to post something on social media daily this year.

And that's not all .. they've got a new spokesperson ... "Jim Reaper" is his name and he's been lurking around the capitol since session got underway.

"The message is this: Death is with you whenever you're driving, whether you're going down the street, in the neighborhood or on a long distance trip you have to be a safe driver," Mangan said.

Mangan said Reaper will appear in two ads that will air during the Super Bowl and he will also be in other marketing materials and DPS commercials throughout the year.

Both Minnesota and iowa have had primary seat belt laws since the 1980s. Iowa upgraded its score this past year by passing a law that made texting while driving a primary offense during its last legislative session.

KSFY News has reached out to some of the lawmakers who are still part of the legislature to see if they plan to bring up any driving safety bills this year. We haven't heard back yet.