Governor Branstad today signed what’s being called one of the strongest anti-texting laws in the country.
It’s part of a broader effort to combat distracted driving, which is contributing to an increase in traffic fatalities in Iowa.
The bill will make texting while driving a primary offense so law enforcement can pull over a driver for looking at a hand-held screen for texts or social media or e-mail.
In January, Branstad called for a ban on hand-held devices, but he did not sponsor a bill to do that.
“We did what we could,” Branstad said. “This is a legislative process that has to have bipartisan support, but there just weren’t enough votes to pass the hands-free bill.”
With the bill, Iowa becomes one of the last states in the country to make texting while driving a primary offense.
The new law bans using your phone for anything but navigation or a phone call.
Critics say enforcement of the new texting ban will be difficult, but Branstad says the hand-held ban is still a good idea.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said she will work next year to get a ban passed on all hand-held devices.
“We need to collect the data and continue to bring people on board,” Reynolds said. “That would be the ultimate goal for me also.”
But a key state lawmaker said that won’t be easy.
“I doubt that we come back at it next year,” said Rep. Gary Worthan (R-Storm Lake), who agreed the votes were not there for passage this year.
The governor also signed legislation enhancing penalties when texting causes a fatal crash. That bill will also crack down on first-offense drunk drivers.
“Together these two bills, which passed with strong bipartisan support, will make an impact on improving highway safety in our state,” Branstad said.