The Iowa legislature is sending Governor Branstad a bill that would let police pull vehicles over if they suspect the driver is texting or using a cell phone to generate video for things like Snapchat or Facebook live.
Representative Gary Worthan, a Republican from Storm Lake, says that means texting while driving will become a “primary” offense.
“Currently it’s a secondary offense. A police officer would have to stop you for speeding or an illegal turn or something before they could go to the ‘texting while driving’ (charge),” Worthan says. “This would allow an officer to stop a person that he sees going down the road, maybe looking at their right hand, and pull them over.”
The House passed the bill yesterday by an overwhelming 90-6 vote. It had cleared the Senate earlier.
“This bill does take a step forward in reducing distracted driving,” says Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines.
More and more accidents are being caused by drivers who drift out of their lanes and experts say the distraction of a smart phone is considered the primary reason for the trend. Governor Branstad has lobbied for a “hands free” law for drivers, but he’s indicated he’ll approve this incremental step. It will still let drivers talk on their phones or use the map “app” on their smart phones for navigation.
Worthan says the hope is this new law “will accomplish about the same thing” as a “hands free” law.
“Even if a person is stopped and they tell a law enforcement officer: ‘Well, I was just dialing a phone number,’ the stop has still happened,” Worthan says, “the discussion is still held between the driver and law enforcement as to how dangerous what they were doing was to their own safety and the safety of the motoring public.”
Under another bill that working its way through the legislature, texting drivers who cause wrecks that kill others on the road would be charged with vehicular homicide — just like drunk drivers involved in fatal wrecks.