Lawmakers Consider Cracking Down on Texting Behind the Wheel

Jan 18, 2017

Iowa lawmakers are considering tougher regulations to keep drivers from texting. Right now, a texting driver can only be ticketed if they’re stopped for another offense, but a bill that passed out of a Senate subcommittee this afternoon would allow law enforcement to pull someone over for texting.

Since it’s hard to prove whether someone is texting or using their phone for another purpose, lawmakers say they’ll also consider “hands-free” legislation which would make it illegal to even hold a phone while driving.

"Because there is no enforcement, there is no compliance,"says Patrick Hoye of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, who supports a hands-free amendment. "For the [Iowa] State Patrol, less than 200 traffic citations were issued last year for texting while driving." 

The ACLU of Iowa is opposing legislation, as it worries this will create an greater opportunity for racial profiling. But the civil liberties organization says a hands-free amendment does make the proposal less problematic.

"If it were hands-free," says the ACLU's Daniel Zeno, "it takes that discretion from the officer of, 'Is a person texting or doing something else?" and makes it, 'Is the phone in the person's hand?'"

The Iowa Department of Transportation reports a five-year high of 403 traffic fatalities in 2016. Data also shows that while number of OWIs in Iowa dropped by 25 percent from 2010 to 2025, the number of crashes of crashes caused by distracted drivers has increased by 40 percent.