The National Safety Council gives South Dakota and ten other states an F for its efforts to reduce preventable deaths from accidents. We rank #46 (ahead of Montana, Wyoming, Mississippi, Idaho, and Missouri), due to a lack of policies NSC recommends for road safety, home and community safety, and workplace safety, including…
ignition interlock for all first-time and repeat DUIs
90+ day license revocation for testing above .08 BAC or refusing test
children in hot cars law
texting ban for all drivers
seat belts on school buses required
Home and Community Safety
CPR required for high school graduates
universal background checks and waiting periods on firearm sales
safe storage law for firearms
sprinkler system requirements in homes
fall prevention strategies and education for older adults required
buprenorphine available to treat opioid and heroin use disorders
carbon monoxide detectors required in homes, schools, and lodging
state/local employee OSHA coverage
state workplace violence law
drug-free workplace law
workplace wellness law
By NSC’s standards, the safest state in the neighborhood is Minnesota, which gets a C and ranks #13. The National Safety Council grades hard: no state gets an A. The safest places, drawing Bs, are Maryland, Illinois, Washington DC, Maine, Oregon, Connecticut, California, and Washington state.
A 2015 study found robot cars getting into accidents twice as often as meat-guided vehicles, largely because robot cars have thus far been programmed to strictly follow the law and thus don’t respond well among rule-breaking organisms. One could thus argue that if we placed robots in a universal rule-following environment—i.e., highways where every car is governed by robots and rules—the robot wreck rate would plummet.
I’m not eager to see robots take lots of our jobs. But given our own performance record on the road, I might not mind robots taking the wheel.
The number of speeding tickets issued by state troopers has risen sharply since the new speed limit went into effect. In the nearly two years before the speed limit increase, troopers wrote 12,585 speeding tickets on interstates and state highways. In the same period following the April 1, 2015 increase, they wrote 18,227 citations, according to an… analysis [by that Sioux Falls paper] of speeding data….
Nationally, highway traffic deaths were up in 2016 for the second year in a row, according to the National Safety Council. But South Dakota has gone the other direction, even with the increase to 80 mph on much of the state’s interstate system. Fatalities last year were down to 115, the lowest since 2011 and the second lowest since 1960. As recently as 2003, there were more than 200 reported fatalities in the state [Jonathan Ellis, “Speeding Tickets Surge After Change to 80 MPH Limit,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.03.24].
So maybe 80 is o.k…. or maybe I’ve just adopted Brian Gosch’s own bias as I enjoy the three-hour run from Aberdeen to Sioux Falls. But keep your eyes on the road, if not for me, then for Smokey and his itchy ticket finger!
The Department of Public Safety has released its 2015 Crash Report. In his cover letter, Governor Daugaard chooses to highlight two statistically insignificant pieces of data:
In each Crash Report, there are positive outcomes to share and evidence of challenges that South Dakotans face when it comes to motor vehicle safety.
The overall numbers of drivers in alcohol-involved fatal crashes is up slightly from last year’s report. In 2015, South Dakota had 41 intoxicated drivers who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes, compared to 40 in 2014.
However, the good news is the number of drivers and passengers who died while not wearing seatbelts in 2015 is down seven percent from 2014. While that number is still too high, we are happy to see a reverse in the trend [Governor Dennis Daugaard, 2015 Crash Report, Department of Public Safety, November 2016].
I say statistically insignificant because a change from 41 to 40 out of over 17,000 crashes doesn’t tell us much. The non-seatbelted fatalities figures are even smaller, down from 30 to 28. Neither decline represents a real reversal or a trend; both are statistical noise, possibly explained by one vehicle.
If we want numbers that can inform policy, we need to look at bigger numbers that can’t be explained by one motorist misfortune:
economic loss ($M)
We killed fewer people on our highways last year, but we still had more costly wrecks. Injuries jumped 8.5%; alcohol-related injuries jumped 23.7%. Direct property damage rose 5.1%; economic losses 11.7%. All of those unpleasant increases exceed the 2.6% increase in reported crashes, indicating that, for some reason, we got more buck from each bang.
That snapshot suggests some strange danger cropping up in last year’s driving. (Anyone care to speculate on the impact of raising our Interstate speed limit from 75 to 80? Ah, but the Crash Report says that while Interstates represent a larger percentage of fatal crashes than they do of total crashes, they make up a smaller percentage of injury crashes.)
Comparing 2015 to 1986, we have 64% more registered vehicles traveling 49% more miles (over 93 million miles, the distance to the sun!) but only 30% more crashes, about the same number of fatal crashes, and fewer injuries.
And over just the last decade, alcohol-related fatalities and injuries have declined 15%, while DUI arrests have declined 18% and DUI convictions have dropped 27%. Whatever we’re doing—more checkpoints, more counseling, sobering up culturally—appears to be deterring drunk driving.
What will happen in 2017? The problem of DUI has only gotten worse since the July 2013 DUI killing of our daughter. We call upon the Governor and Legislature to think about the victims and change DUI laws and practices. Make Vehicular Homicide “a crime of violence”. Implement all the 2013 NTSB recommendations. Mandate 24/7 or ignition interlocks for all DUI convicts. Suspend licenses and impound vehicles upon arrest. Fund local governments that bear the brunt of DUI costs. Stop suspended imposition, allowing offenders to escape any consequences. Stop pandering to defense lawyers. Politicians should heed Psalm 37:27 “Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.” If politicians choose to fail DUI victims again, perhaps an Initiated Measure can change things [Gregg Spindler, letter to the editor, received 2016.11.29].
I’d suggest the initiative threat may take the pressure off the Legislature to do anything. I’d also suggest that the success this year of Amendment S, the crime victims bill of rights, shows that a DUI reform would pass easily: run just one ad, with Gregg Spindler holding a photo of his daughter, and voters will mark Yes overwhelmingly.
The NRA and South Dakota Gun Owners pushed a permitless concealed carry bill (2015 HB 1116) through the House in 2015, only to fail in Senate Judiciary under opposition from South Dakota sheriffs and the state Department of Public Safety.
But here we’ll go again, with Rep. DiSanto revving up the gun crowd with another feel-tough proposal that will not pay any teacher, pave any road, free up any nursing home beds, relive any unfair tax burdens, ease the burdens of meth and gambling addictions, or solve any other substantive policy problem facing our state.
We just can’t have any fun any more. The Aberdeen Optimist Club opens the Haunted Forest at Wylie Park this Friday and Saturday, but the terror will only come from zombies, axes, and fake blood and gore, not play guns:
After a request last year to have Haunted Forest volunteers and organizers scale back on their use of firearms and shot-replicating equipment, the Aberdeen Police Department asked that those types of props be dispensed with completely this year. The Optimist Club, which organizes the event, is honoring that request.
“We’d favor not having anything that simulates gunfire in a big event like this,” [Police Chief Dave] McNeil said. “If there were a discharge (that was not part of the event), it would be tough to determine.
But don’t worry: if you feel the need to bring your pistol to the playground, the cops are still cool with that:
Anybody attending Haunted Forest with a concealed handgun must follow applicable laws, said McNeil and Capt. Eric Duven. A permit is needed to carry, but there’s no law that prevents concealed weapons at parks.
“There are countless ways someone could get themselves in trouble if they weren’t following the law,” McNeil said [Pharris, 2016.10.20].
Have fun kids… but watch out for those grown-ups with unusual bulges under their clothes.
“I fully expect by tomorrow morning that President Obama will have rediscovered his left-wing roots and will give a press conference in which he will explain the problem is too many trucks,” [Newt] Gingrich said. “If only we had truck regulation then we wouldn’t have problems like Nice. Because it is trucks that are dangerous. I mean that is the exact analogue to Orlando and just tells you how nuts the left-wing in America is” [Evan Popp and Celisa Calacal, “Conservatives Call for ‘Truck Control’ in Wake of Terrorist Attack in Nice,” ThinkProgress, 2016.07.15].
The analogue between Nice and Orlando, Dallas, San Bernadino, Roseburg, Chattanooga, and Charleston is far from exact. We already have truck control. A truck operator must undergo training and obtain a commercial driver’s license. A truck owner must pay special taxes every year, affix a highly visible license plate, and submit the vehicle to inspections. We ban trucks from certain roads and neighborhoods, restrict the weight of their loads in springtime, limit idling and emissions, and ban jake braking in town. We strictly regulate the use of trucks to protect public safety, health, and infrastructure.
That strict regulation does not eliminate accidents or, far more rarely, deliberate use of trucks to harm others. Those harms are far outweighed by trucks’ daily utility as literal economic engines. Like airplanes, computers, and cold medicine, trucks can be repurposed to do great harm, but with sensible regulation, we minimize that harm while maintaining their immense practical benefit for hundreds of millions of people.
Guns in Dallas, Orlando, San Bernadino, Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, and other sites of mass shootings were not repurposed from some benign use. Those shooters used guns exactly as they were designed, to shoot and kill. The Dallas shooter used his gun to revolt against and punish those he perceived as tyrannical agents of the state, exactly as the gun rights movement advocates.
Guns provide no countervailing daily utility. I won’t walk down Main Street today and see guns being used in any practical way by regular citizens to make their lives better. Guns don’t move couches, pave roads, shingle roofs, teach kids, relieve poverty, or cure the flu. Guns serve one purpose: to do deathly damage. Yet I can’t propose for guns even a fraction of the regulation that we impose on truck owners without being branded a lily-livered gun-grabbing liberal.
Trucks provide immense utility, yet we impose on them strict regulation. Guns provide almost no daily utility—Canada tightly restricts gun ownership, yet their economy and social institutions hum along nicely while they enjoy a far lower firearm homicide rate—yet many Americans adopt a strange absolutism against any gun restrictions.
We have truck control. We need comparable gun control.
Campbell County Economic Development director Andrew Van Kuren says the free market has failed to provide hundreds of folks in the Pollock area with the cell phone service they need and deserve. Van Kuren and his neighbors are circulating paper and online petitions to get some kind telecommunications company to build them the cell phone tower that, so far, market forces have said isn’t worthwhile.
Van Kuren’s petition says his neighborhood needs cell phone service for “health, welfare, social activities, business economics and public SAFETY”. But Van Kuren doesn’t want anyone sticking one particular naughty word on this request:
Van Kuren said a cellphone tower is something that the town has needed for more than a decade.
“We are not saying we are entitled, but we have enough economic activity to make it (worthwhile) for a carrier to put one here,” Van Kuren said. “There are several reasons why we need one, and we hope that we will get one” [Tatum Dean, “Safety Concerns Prompt Cellphone Tower Drive in Pollock Area,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.06.06].
Entitled—ooooo. It’s o.k., Andrew. I don’t think you’re asking for some special treatment any more than your neighbors’ grandparents were asking for special treatment back in the days of rural electrification (brought to you by Democrats—you’re welcome!). More quickly than electricity, mobile communication service has moved from novelty to essential utility. Equal access to public services, job opportunities, and economic development requires that citizens be able to connect with whomever, whenever, wherever.
Perhaps instead of subsidizing big businesses in big towns that already have advantages in the marketplace, the Governor could direct some of the GOED Future Fund toward building basic utilities like cell phone towers in the state’s dead zones. Consider that the four million Future Fund dollars Sioux Falls ad firm Lawrence & Schiller got for marketing could buy a cell phone tower for Pollock and 25 other South Dakota towns that right now might as well be on Mars given how long it takes them to communicate with Mission Control.
Every South Dakotan is entitled to equal access to basic utilities. Mobile voice and data communications have become a basic utility. Keep petitioning, Pollock!
Rounds’s proposal struck families of Flight 3407 fatalities as an industry sop, not safety:
“When it comes to something as technical as pilot training, you would expect this amendment to come from someone on the committee of jurisdiction, so this makes you wonder who Senator Rounds is talking to when he is the one that puts this forward,” stated Scott Maurer of Palmetto, Florida, who lost his thirty year old daughter Lorin. “Clearly this is being pushed by or on behalf of the Regional Airline Association, and there obviously is a South Dakota angle here. You have RAA member Great Lakes Airlines, who just happens to service South Dakota, and who every time we come to Washington is making noise for this exemption and for that loophole. Not to mention the huge government subsidy they accept every year, and their less-than-stellar record when it comes to maintenance, reliable operation, and paying their pilots food stamp-level wages. So if you’re the father of Lorin Maurer, and you wake up every day with a massive hole in your heart from a totally needless tragedy, what do you say to Senator Rounds and to our Congress in general when it sure as heck looks like the tail is wagging the dog? Instead of doing the right thing and challenging our regional airlines to step up to the plate and raise their game to the level of the mainline carriers, we are looking for every possible way to accommodate them with loopholes. We call on Majority Leader McConnell to allow this proposal to go no further” [Families of Continental Flight 3407, press release, 2016.04.14].
The amendment to the FAA bill proposed by U.S. Senator Mike Rounds would weaken critical pilot standards. This is yet another cynical attempt by some in the regional industry to put profits before people. There are no shortcuts to pilot experience; there are no shortcuts to safety. The standards are the standards because they are necessary [Capt. C.B. Sullenberger, Facebook post, 2016.04.14].
The 3407 families also blame Senator John Thune for not checking his rookie counterpart’s enthusiasm for business over safety:
“Obviously I am not happy with Senator Rounds for bringing this forward, but I want to express my profound disappointment in Senator Thune as well,” stated John Kausner of Clarence Center, New York who lost his twenty-four year old daughter Ellyce. “He is Senator Rounds’ senior partner in the South Dakota delegation, and more importantly, as the Commerce Committee Chairman, he is the point man on this whole FAA Bill. I have a hard time believing that Senator Rounds went this one alone without Senator Thune’s blessing and/or encouragement. So many including myself, Scott Maurer, Mike Loftus, Jim Neill, Gayle Saltzgiver and others, lost beautiful, talented, incredible children who had so much more life left to live and so much more to give this world. From one father to another, I call on Senator Thune to challenge all these regional airlines to enhance their entry-level training programs, not so that they can get an allowance from the FAA, but rather because it’s the right thing to do for every member of the traveling public [Families of 3407, 2016.04.14].
The current law requires cyclists to ride as close as practicable to the righthand curb or edge of the road, with an exception for avoiding hazardous conditions. The current law says those conditions include but are not limited to fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, and surface hazards. HB 1073 removes the catch-all clause that allows other unlisted hazards to justify leaning left. Are branches hanging down over the roadway considered a surface hazard? How about a stiff north wind as I try to keep it steady heading eastbound?
Worse, HB 1073 removes the allowance for bicyclists to ride away from the curb on substandard-width roads, those that are too narrow to accommodate both a bicycle and a car. Instead of letting cyclists remain visible and safe, HB 1073 forces cyclists to hug that the edge of the pavement on those narrow roads, inviting motorists to squeeze by them on roads where squeezing cannot safely take place.
In the killer, HB 1073 literally orders bicyclists off the road:
If a person is operating a bicycle within a no passing zone on a roadway that has no shoulder or a shoulder of less than three feet in width, the person shall stop the bicycle, move the bicycle off the roadway, and allow a faster vehicle to pass [excerpt, House Bill 1073, posted 2016.01.21].
Want to kill bicycle tourism in the Black Hills? That line does it. Riding Spearfish Canyon becomes practically impossible, as the popular road between Savoy and Cheyenne Crossing in many places has no shoulder and often little to no room for cyclists to step off safely even if they wanted to. Even if I brave the bush or dive over the drop-off, I’ll be dismounting on a nice day in the Canyon every minute, making a nice smooth ride in a reasonable time frame impossible.
Hillary Angus of Momentum Mag (wow, South Dakota Legislature—can you ever get national press for doing something amazingly good?) recognizes that basic impracticality and the heightened risk HB 1073 poses for bicyclists:
…there are a lot of practical considerations that don’t really add up. If there is no shoulder, where is the person with the bike supposed to go? Sure in an urban setting they can stand on the sidewalk while letting streams of car pass them by, but what about on any one of the state’s 5,875 bridges? Or roads with guardrails such as this one [Iron Mountain Road! whoo-hoo!], which you’ll note has a shoulder of less than three feet in a no-passing zone. I can only assume bicyclists in this case are just supposed to toss the bike over the edge and sit on the fence while the car passes? [Hillary Angus, “South Dakota Bill Would Require Cyclists to Dismount for Passing Cars,” Momentum Mag, 2016.01.25]
Dakota Rural Action says HB 1073 undermines the sensible shared use of roads:
Sure, roadways are inherently the realm of automobiles. But nowadays the shared use of roads amongst a diversity of travel modes is a given and has been promoted by public policy at all levels. HB 1073 is a push against that important norm. It offers exclusive solutions favoring the motor vehicle where simple, inclusive solutions could solve the problem. Looking to initiatives like Complete Streets, which has shaped policy in a number of municipalities across the state, is a great place to start. Complete Streets is smart policy that fosters healthy growth plans through the incorporation all forms of transportation. Rather than simply pushing the bicyclist, pedestrian, or any other slower, human-powered traveler off the road, state legislators should look to creating roadways that incorporate diversity of travel [Tony Helland, “HB 1073—Get off the Road, Cyclists?” Dakota Rural Action Legislative blog, 2016.01.27].
Amish carriages go slower than most cyclists, but the Ohio Department of Transportation doesn’t tell the Amish to head for the ditch every time the English come roaring up behind them. Instead, Ohio DOT reminds car drivers of their responsibility to be extra cautious, to “slow down and give buggies and horse-drawn equipment plenty of room when passing” and “only pass when legal and safe.”