Iowa Senate panel approves tighter laws for texting drivers

'This isn't about teenagers any more'

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Legislation to crack down on texting while driving almost received unanimous support, despite one Senator saying the legislation isn’t broad enough.

Senate Study Bill 3191 would make texting while driving a primary offense and allow a police officer to pull a driver over and fine them for texting.  Iowa law currently bans texting, reading or writing on a hand-held phone while driving, but the activity is considered a secondary offense, and a citation can only be issued if there's a violation of another motor vehicle law.

“This is long overdue,”  bill sponsor and Committee Chairman Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, told the Senate Transportation Committee Thursday morning.

The Senate panel approved the bill, 11-1, with Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, the lone dissenter.

“There are so many other forms of distracted driving that to hone in on texting is a little frustrating to me,” Behn said. “Particularly when we had a distracted driving bill before.”

Bowman acknowledged to the committee distracted driving includes more than texting, but said he and other senators wanted the bill to be “narrowly defined” to keep the issue moving forward.

Behn said he will still support the bill when it goes to the Senate floor for consideration, but opposed the bill in committee to show he felt the bill should have been more “all encompassing” on the issue of distracted driving.

There are 21 states that ban text messaging for all drivers, but only four consider texting a primary violation, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The committee  met with several researchers, experts and public safety officers throughout the session who have all rattled off data on the dangers of distracted driving. Several said texting while driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, told the committee he’s seen distracted drivers on their phone in Des Moines, including one driver who texted as his children rode in the back seat.

“It’s not about how many people we can pull over or how many tickets we can write it's about getting the word out that this is not a practice that should be occurring,” said Kupucian who has worked with Bowman on the bill.

Bowman said the bill holds all drivers, not just young adults, accountable on the road.

“This isn’t about teenagers texting anymore,” Bowman said. “It’s about us. It’s about adults.”

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