A bill to ban cellphone use while driving unless it's hands-free got its first public airing at the statehouse today, garnering broad support and winning the unanimous approval of a three-member bipartisan panel in the Iowa Senate.
Public safety officials, the governor, and a wide range of citizens groups say cellphones are contributing to a rise in traffic fatalities on Iowa roadways.
Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Major John Godar, head of the Iowa State Sheriff’s Association, says the current law banning texting while driving isn’t working.
“We're only going to be writing tickets to the people who are good enough to admit the truth,” Godar said. “The other 98% are going to lie and say I was using it to make a phone call or dial a number, I wasn't texting. And that's a problem for enforcement."
If the bill becomes law, Iowa would join a growing number of states requiring only hands-free cellphone use.
Godar says keeping the cellphone out of the driver’s hands would be an enforceable law.
“We don't want a way to write a million more tickets,” Godar said. “We want people to know that this is enforceable, we will be writing tickets, and hopefully generate their voluntary compliance.”
Bills to address the use of electronic devices in the car have run into trouble in the House in the past.
However, this year a bill has also been introduced in the House to mandate only hands-free cellphone use while behind the wheel.
The Iowa Department of Transportation has recorded a rise in serious traffic accidents due to drivers distracted by phones and that’s contributing to an increase in traffic fatalities.
Another more limited bill is under consideration in the Senate. It would make texting while driving a primary offense.
But safety advocates say the hands-free bill is the way to go.
“This is the bill we should be focusing on,” said Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa).
The ACLU opposes the bill because of the potential for racial profiling of drivers.
Automobile manufacturers requested some technical changes to the bill. They say the technology is there to use cellphones hands-free and drivers should be encouraged to use it.