It would be illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving if a bill proposed by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau becomes law. Texting while driving would also become a primary offense, meaning an officer would be able to pull someone over if they suspect the driver is texting.
“We just think it is life-saving legislation,” says Patrick Hoye, the former head of the Iowa State Patrol who is now chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.
Hoye met with members of the Senate Transportation Committee late Monday to discuss the bill. He said cell phone use while driving — to either talk or text — is just as bad as drunk driving because not only does it take one hand off the wheel, it takes the driver’s attention away from the road.
“For my family, does it matter if they’re drunk and they cross the center line and they take out my family or they cross the center line because they were texting and take out my family,” Hoye said. “You’re not only putting yourself in danger, but you’re putting everybody on the road in danger.”
The distraction of smart phones has become an “epidemic” on Iowa’s roads, according to Hoye. He cited 2013 stats showing 63 percent of the fatality crashes on Iowa roads involved a vehicle that had left its lane.
“I think you can make a pretty strong correlation,” Hoye said. “…Something is causing our citizens to leave the road and we just believe that obviously distracted driving and, in particular texting, is one of those strong reasons.”
Fourteen other states have laws which forbid drivers to use their hands to text or hold their phone to talk. The Iowa law that’s been proposed by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau would impose a $30 fine for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving and it is similar to the law that’s been in effect in Illinois for over a year. Sergeant John Thompson of the Illinois State Police told members of the Iowa Senate’s Transportation Committee that public opinion in Illinois was overwhelmingly in favor of banning cell phone use while driving.
“It’s scary out there to see what people are doing in vehicles,” Thompson said. “…You see people who are just all over the road…They’re doing everything in a vehicle but driving.”
Thompson said traffic fatalities declined in Illinois last year — the first year the cell phone ban while driving was in effect. Last year, a bill banning texting while driving passed the Senate, but it was not considered in the Iowa House.