Drivers ed teachers, legislators, cops, safety experts and others gathered Wednesday to talk about changing the rules of the road for teenage drivers. Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Techau says he organized the summit because traffic accidents are the number one cause of death for Iowans between the ages of 16 and 25. Among the ideas discussed were forbidding teen drivers from giving a ride to anyone but a family member, and requiring the use of hands-free devices when teen drivers use their cell phone. “What we want to do is put this into a proposed legislative package and try to build a coalition,” Techau says. His agency will bring in other interested groups like the P-T-A and the Iowa Association of School Boards and hold town meetings around the state to try to build public support for the ideas. “What things are going to have the most impact?” is one of the questions Techau hopes to address. Techau ran the ideas past three key legislators yesterday. Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, says it does make sense to forbid teens from giving rides to their friends. He cites his own childhood experience as evidence. “I’ll give you an example. One of my friends in our neighborhood was the first one to get the learner’s permit and guess who gave us all rides to and from school?” Danielson says. “It was a blue, four-door station wagon and we all piled into it. It wasn’t a smart thing to do.” However, while Danielson supports requiring all drivers to only talk on the cell phone if they’ve got a “hands-free” device, he will not favor cell phone restrictions that are “age specific.” Danielson says it would be a knee-jerk reaction to put such restrictions on young people and ignore other drivers who are equally distracted by handling and dialing their cell phone while driving. Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, is a retired state trooper who gives the list developed at Wednesday’s summit only a small chance of becoming law. “I’m not sure whether anything will be get passed,” Baudler says. “It’s going to be difficult to do some of the things that they ask for.” Baudler says cops can already ticket folks for “distracted” driving, and prohibiting cell phone use while driving could open the door to a long laundry list of other legal no-nos. “I mean we could go to putting on cosmetics, painting your toenails, eating — stop all fast-food drive-throughs, reading the paper, saying the Rosary,” Baudler says. But Senator Pat Ward, a Republican from West Des Moines, has concerns about teenagers talking on their cell phones and sending text messages while they’re driving. “I believe we can have tougher requirements on teenage drivers…because they have much less experience on the road,” Ward says. “I personally would support tougher restrictions for teen drivers using cell phones.” One universally popular proposal from yesterday’s meeting was the idea of putting a decal or sticker on a car when a 14- or 15-year-old is behind the wheel.
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