Governor signs text-messaging ban into law

DES MOINES – Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Eugene Meyer coined a new phrase Thursday – don’t drive intexticated.

Meyer presented Gov. Chet Culver with a coffer mug and lanyard sporting the motto at a ceremony on the west steps of the Iowa Capitol where the governor signed into law legislation intended to curb the fastest-growing distraction for drivers young and old on Iowa highways – text messaging. Meyer said he expects law officers will launch a major education campaign to inform Iowa motorists about the change before it takes effect July 1.

“We’ve now eliminating a very important distraction. Our roads are going to be dramatically safer,” Meyer declared, while Culver called the legislation 1 one of the most-significant traffic safety changes he has approved during his first term as governor.

House File 2456 will prohibit most drivers from writing, sending or reading text or electronic mail messages while operating a motor vehicle. The legislation also places a hard ban on use of cell phones or electronic devices by young drivers up to age 18 who are operating under an instructional permit, school permit, or temporary intermediate, graduated or restricted driver’s licenses.

The new law provides exceptions for drivers engaged in public-safety duties, health-care professional involved in emergency situations, truck drivers with digital dispatch systems, and drivers receiving safety-related information, such as emergency, traffic or weather alerts. The texting ban does not apply to global positioning or navigation systems, hands-free instruments, or to iPods and other devices operated through controls permanently installed on a vehicle.

Opponents question the new law’s enforcability – especially since for the first time law officers could not use a suspected texting violation as a primary reason to make a traffic stop. A violation could be cited as a secondary offense if authorities detected another suspected offense that was the main reason for stopping a vehicle.

In the case of young drivers operating under the ban on texting and cell phone usage, law officers could cite the new law as a primary reason for making a stop under provisions of the bill Culver signed into law Thursday. Also, phones may not be confiscated from drivers cited for violating any of the prohibited activities covered by House File 2456.

While the law takes effect July 1, there will be a one-year educational period where violators will be cited with a warning ticket. Beginning July 1, 2011, the distracted driving violation for texting would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by a $30 scheduled fine. There would be enhanced fines and licensure sanctions for texting violations involving an accident that caused property damage, serious injury or death ranging up to $1,000 and a 180-day license suspension.

The new state law also pre-empts local governmental entities from adopting stricter ordinances, such as a Dubuque ordinace that currently bans cell phone use for all drivers.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@gazcomm.com

Provisions of House File 2456 (passed House 66-33, Senate 37-12)

Adult drivers

Texting: Prohibits writing, sending or reading text or electronic mail messages while driving (can use cell phone); authorities can not use as a primary reason for traffic stop

Exceptions: Exempts public safety duties, health-care professionals in emergency situations, trucking industry digital dispatch systems, drivers receiving safety-related information such as emergency, traffic or weather alerts; does not apply to global positioning or navigation systems or hands-free device. Drivers could use iPods or other devices operated through controls permanently installed on a vehicle; can text if vehicle is at a complete stop off the road

Young drivers 14-18 years

Outright ban: No use of cellphone or electronic device while driving (excludes hands-free device); applies to drivers operating under instructional permits, school permits, graduated or intermediate driver’s licenses; authorities can use as a primary reason for traffic stop

Effective date: July 1, but a one-year grace period when warning tickets will be issued; full enforcement begins July 1, 2011

Enforcement/penalties: Violation a simple misdemeanor punishable by a $30 scheduled fine plus $60 court costs; enhanced sanctions of up to $500 fine and 90-day license suspension if cause accident resulting in serious injury, up to $1,000 and 180-day license suspension if cause accident resulting in death. Phones may not be confiscated if drivers violate the ban

Local preemption: Bars local governmental entities from adopting stricter ordinances

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