The Iowa House has dramatically scaled back a proposal which would have made it illegal for anyone to read or send text messages while driving on Iowa roads. The House, instead, voted to make it illegal for just 16- and 17-year-olds to send text messages or play computer games while they’re driving.
Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, says he’s no fan of “distracted driving” regardless of the driver’s age. “Reading, writing, texting, playing games, applying make-up, shaving, brushing your teeth, reading the paper, eating — distracted driving causes accidents,” Raecker says. “But I also believe young people are at stage of formative habits in their driving and if we can start there and work our way up, this will be a positive approach to keeping Iowans safer on the road.”
Fifty-four of the 100 House members voted for the less-restrictive texting ban that applies to teens only. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, was among those who argued that the ban should apply to adults, too.
“I wish it was a situation where just addressing young people would have taken care of the problem. It doesn’t,” Mascher said. “,,,The people of Iowa have told us they don’t want people texting and driving and they want us to pass legislation preventing it for all ages, not just teenagers.”
Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, agreed that the ban should apply to adults as well as teenagers. “I think this is totally wrong to do this when the people, our people are asking us to pass legislation to ban texting while driving,” she said, “and they don’t say just teenagers.”
Representative Ako Abdul-Samad, a Democrat from Des Moines, used the old phrase “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” to describe his thoughts on the altered proposal. “Are we doing this to young people because we as adults don’t want to step texting as we go, and we want to put it on them?” Abdul-Samad asked during House debate. “…Who better to set the example for young people in not texting than we as adults.”
Representative Curt Hanson, a Democrat from Fairfield, is a retired drivers’ ed instructor who also argued the texting ban should apply to both teens and adults. “As a teacher, I know how hard it is for young drivers to unlearn behavior that they’ve observed in their parents for years and years. Adults need to lead by example,” he said. “If we truly think that texting is dangerous and should not be done then we need to send a clear message to all drivers and not zero in on a group of drivers that are not represented here (in the legislature).”
Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines, ridiculed the idea of an outright ban on texting activity from any driver on the road. “And remember, in my other life I was a prosecutor. In my current life when I’m not here, I still practice law,” Olson said. “To pass a law that is unenforceable because it makes us feel good…is not the type of legislation that should come from this capitol.”
Olson helped draft the new texting-and-driving restrictions which would only apply to teenagers. “It would seem that if you wanted to make the argument that we should protect everybody all the time — texting for adults is bad, too — then we ought to have legislation that says adults ought to wear seat belts in back seats,” Olson said. “We don’t have that.”
The less-restrictive bill now goes back to the senate which earlier voted to ban any driver — regardless of age — from sending or reading text messages in a moving vehicle.