A bill has advanced in the Iowa House to toughen penalties when texting while driving results in a fatal car crash.
The bill clarifies that a driver who’s been texting can be guilty of vehicular homicide just as one who has been drinking.
The bill follows a fatal crash in Fort Dodge in 2015 that killed 56-year-old David Castenson and 85-year-old Velma Castenson.
"David and his 85-year-old mother were struck by a man who while on his phone blew through the rumble strips, blew through the stops signs, showed no signs of braking, no hesitation, before colliding with that vehicle,” said Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant). “He was sentenced to probation.”
The judge chose probation over 20 years in prison for two counts of vehicular homicide for 21-year-old defendant Colton Bills of Dayton.
By law vehicular homicide applies if it’s clear a driver showed reckless disregard for safety.
The bill spells out that using a hand-held electronic device qualifies as reckless disregard.
“What this bill makes very clear to the courts is drunk driving and distracted driving are on the same plane,” Nunn said. “This makes it clear when it’s distracted driving it’s reckless driving, and that qualifies as a Class C felony.”
The bill goes now to the full House for debate.
The bill is part of a package of recommendations from the Iowa Impaired Driving Coalition, which the Department of Public Safety convened at Governor Branstad’s request.