Texting law is not enough to change behavior

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Two recent events suggest that we Iowans are serious about addressing the scourge of cell phone use while driving: a 12-0 vote by the Iowa Senate Transportation committee in favor of making it a primary offense and Gov. Terry Branstad’s support for requiring the use of hands-free technology.

I don’t believe that we are serious.

The threat of a $30 fine — less than half the cost of a speeding ticket — will not change our behavior. And while a hands-free law might seem like a big step in the right direction it will not make our roads any safer.

Cell phones not only take our hands off the wheel and our eyes off the road, they draw our minds away from driving. Researcher David Strayer of the University of Utah has demonstrated that drivers remain distracted for up to 27 seconds after issuing voice commands to their phones.

While the truth about cell phone use while driving is no surprise, accepting the appearance of progress in place of real change would be a tragedy.

If we are we serious about making our roads safer then we must support a ban on all cell phone use by anyone driving a motor vehicle in Iowa.

If that sounds like an infringement on individual rights, consider that prohibitions against open containers and drunk driving as well as mandatory seat belt use may have raised similar concerns. The vast majority of us now see those laws as reflections of the basic common sense that we Iowans take pride in.

Although driving a motor vehicle is a deceptively complex task that demands full attention, no state has outlawed cell phone use while driving. One state must be the first to demonstrate bold and courageous leadership on this issue.

I ask my fellow citizens in the Hawkeye state, “Why not us?”

With so much divisiveness in our country these days I hope that we reject the false hope of small fines and hands-free legislation in favor of real change.

It’s basic common sense.

• Jason B. Lassner is a husband, father of three kids, frequent driver, and road cyclist from Iowa City. He is also a psychologist who specializes in permanent behavior change.

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