Traffic safety experts estimate that one out of five crashes in the U.S. involve a distracted driver. Iowa lawmakers are expected to address the matter during the 2010 session, specifically focusing on drivers who send and receive text messages while behind the wheel. Democrat Tom Rielly of Oskaloosa is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“It’s a safety issue,” Rielly said. “I know there are some studies out there (that suggest) it’s just as risky as driving with a .08 blood-alcohol level.” Rielly says he’s meeting with insurance companies and traffic safety advocates in hopes of crafting a bill to prohibit driving while texting.
Representative Dave Tjepkes, a Republican from Gowry, is a ranking member of the House Transportation Committee. He’s also a retired Iowa State Trooper. “I’ve seen folks driving down the road reading a newspaper,” Tjepkes said. “So, sometimes when you talk about…in the context of distracted driver, that’s pretty broad and ambiguous. As Senator Rielly and I are trying to figure out, how can we draft something that’s very targeted and very specific that we think will be effective?”
Tjepkes says the issue of drafting a bill to ban driving while texting is more complex than it might seem. For instance, there are questions about how to legally define texting. “That’s what we’re working on right now,” Tjepkes said. “I think all bills we introduce need to be kind of in the context…is this going to prevent something? How could it be enforced and what effect do we think we can have overall on safety?”
Law officers are wondering how they would enforce a texting ban. Rielly, who once served as mayor of Oskaloosa, says the issue is similar to a ban his city placed on semi drivers using Jake Brakes. “Anybody that lives near a highway knows when a semi puts on Jake Brakes, it’s very, very loud. So, we passed an ordinance, but my big concern was ‘how do you enforce this?’ Unless a police officer is sitting right there as the semi is putting on its Jake Brakes, it’s virtually unenforecable,” Rielly said.
“So, I think that’s something we do have to take into consideration as we discuss this important topic.” Tjepkes suggests a public education campaign, including billboards along highways and interstates, might also help address the problem. Rielly and Tjepkes made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “The Exchange.”