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Hands off: Lawmakers again weigh ban on hand-held phone use while driving
Iowa is among a minority of states not banning hand-held use of mobile devices while driving
DES MOINES — Using mobile devices while driving a vehicle would be illegal except when using hands-free modes, under a proposal being considered by Iowa state lawmakers.
The concept is nothing new: Similar legislation has floated around the Capitol ever since the state in 2017 enacted a ban on texting while driving. But some lawmakers think momentum is building around the proposal, and with a large number of new legislators, this may be the year the ban on mobile device operation passes both chambers of the Iowa Legislature and makes it to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her consideration.
“It’s time to get it done,” Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls, a Democrat from Coralville and leader of the Iowa Senate Democrats, said Friday while recording “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “I sure hope so. It’s something that, certainly, it’s long overdue.”
From 2015 to 2021 in Iowa, the average annual number of crashes that involved distracted driving increased 64.9 percent over the previous 14 years, according to state transportation data.
Over the same period, the number of distracted driving-related crashes involving fatalities and total deaths from crashes both spiked by 237 percent in Iowa.
In 2022, a total of 338 people died on Iowa roads, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Already this year, 25 have been killed.
State law enforcement officials say the current ban on texting while driving is nearly impossible to enforce because it is difficult to prove a driver was texting, which is illegal, and not making a call, which remains legal.
Proposed legislation that is advancing in the Iowa Senate would allow for mobile device use while driving only in hands-free mode. Any hand-held use of a device while driving would be prohibited.
The bill, Senate File 60, is supported by five different organizations that represent state law enforcement officials, plus the state public safety and transportation departments, according to state lobbying records. The proposal also is backed by groups representing insurance companies, car dealers, lawyers, senior citizens, brain injury prevention advocates and local governments.
No groups are registered in opposition to the proposal.
Sen. Mark Lofgren, a Republican from Muscatine who has been managing the proposed legislation in the Senate, said that as an avid runner he has witnessed an increase in drivers who operate mobile devices while driving.
“It seems like 20 years ago, as a runner you didn’t see many (drivers) distracted,” Lofgren said. “It seems like it’s gotten worse, and it’s gotten worse, and it’s gotten worse.”
Lofgren said he also hopes the proposal passes the Iowa Legislature this year.
Thirty states prohibit the hand-held use of mobile devices while driving, according to the national Governors Highway Safety Association.
Rep. Pat Grassley, the Republican speaker of the Iowa House from New Hartford, said he is not sure how many House Republicans support the proposal, given 24 of them are in their first year in the Legislature.
Sen. Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate majority leader from Grimes, said something similar; there are nine new Senate Republicans this year. He said now that the bill managed by Lofgren has passed out of the Senate’s transportation committee, the full roster of Senate Republicans will start discussing it.
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