116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Motorists in Iowa would be prohibited from using hand-held cellphones or other electronic communication device while driving under legislation approved Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee.
If the legislation is approved by the Legislature, Iowa would join 25 other states in prohibiting the use of electronic devices capable of sending or receiving messages and storing or displaying videos while driving. In those states with hands-free legislation similar to what is being proposed in Iowa, there has been, on average, a 15 percent reduction in fatalities, according to an insurance company representative who spoke Tuesday at a hearing on HF 392.
Operating a hand-held phone distracts drivers physically, visually and cognitively, Matthew McKinney, a lobbyist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance, told a subcommittee. The company has seen an increase in frequency and severity of claims related to distracted driving.
In Iowa last year, there were 373 crashes directly related to distracted driving, resulting in six fatalities and more than $4 million in property damage, Iowa State Patrol Maj. Mark Stine told lawmakers. Distracted driving as a cause of crashes probably is underreported, he added.
Iowa law now prohibits the use of hand-held electronic communication devices to write, send or view electronic messages while driving. Under HF 392, use of an electronic device would be a moving violation. The fine for a violation would increase from $45 to $100.
The bill would allow the use of an electronic device in voice-activated or hands-free mode, by health care professionals in emergencies, to receive safety-related information and report an emergency, and by a transportation network company driver engaged in a prearranged ride, provided the vehicle is not in motion.
Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, was the lone vote against HF 392 because it didn’t include an exemption for people operating farm machinery, which travels at a much slower speed than other traffic, he said.
Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, supported the bill but was concerned with raising the fine and that it would result in a disproportionate number of minority drivers being ticketed.
According to a Legislative Services Agency fiscal note, there were 1,734 convictions for violations of the current law in fiscal 2018, 1,770 the following year and 1,576 in 2020. In each year, more than 70 percent of those ticketed were white.
LSA also estimated that adoption of HF 392 would begin to increase state revenue by $100,500 a year after an initial drop of $47,000 in the first year, due in part to a six-month grace period after the hands-free requirement becomes law.
A Senate subcommittee will take up similar legislation Wednesday.
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