Iowa Department of Public Safety officials are urging the state legislature to make it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving on Iowa roads.

Ross Loder of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says distracted driving is a critical safety issue. "There is research that pretty strongly suggests that driving while mentally engaged in a telephone conversation and talking on the cell phone is actually very similar to significant alcohol impairment," Loder says.

The proposed legislation does not entirely ban cell phone calls while driving, but it does require the driver to use a hands-free device. Loder says there’s new research almost daily which points to the danger of having one hand on the steering wheel and another wrapped around your cell phone.

"When people are driving down the road and they are engaged in a conversation and become distracted and fly off the road and hit a telephone pole, many of them don’t admit that they were talking on the cell phone," Loder says, "so some of the true scope of the problem is masked by a reluctance of people to admit what occurred and the way that traffic data was collected historically."

If the proposed ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving were to take effect, there would be exceptions for law enforcement officials and for those who operate ham radios or two-way radios while they’re driving. The proposal was discussed Tuesday by a subcommittee in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Five states and the District of Columbia already have laws which ban driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone. The three of the five states are on the east coast — Connecticut, New Jersey and New York; the other two — California and Washington — are on the west coast.