NEWS

State department seeks to ban hands-on use of mobile devices while driving

Under new bill, texting while driving would be grounds for a traffic stop

Photo illustration shot in  Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)
Photo illustration shot in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — Traffic cameras would be banned and any hand-held use of mobile phones while driving would be illegal under bills filed ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

State lawmakers and governmental departments have begun filing bills for consideration in the 2015 legislative session that begins Jan. 12.

The state Department of Public Safety has filed a bill that would allow only hands-free use of mobile devices while driving. All use of manual devices while driving — whether to make a call or text — would be illegal and grounds for a traffic stop.

In the most recent legislative session, a bill banning texting while driving passed the Senate, but it was not taken up in the House.

The Department of Public Safety bill expands the banned behaviors.

“As far as what we passed in the Senate with bipartisan support, that wasn’t what was in it,” said Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, the chairman of the Iowa Senate Transportation Committee. “Not that I’m against it.”

Bowman said he would want to hear from stakeholders such as industries that use devices to communicate, that law enforcement officials believe such a ban could be enforced and see data from states that have similar bans to determine whether it has had a measurable impact on accidents.

“But we have to do something to reduce distracted driving,” Bowman said.

The Department of Public Safety did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Traffic cameras would be banned under a bill introduced by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale.

A similar bill was introduced in 2012 only to be withdrawn.

“I think that I have got more potential to get something done on traffic enforcement cameras than I ever have in all my past efforts,” Zaun said, adding that he believes cities implement traffic cameras more as a revenue source than a safety measure. “People are just kind of waking up to the whole fact that this has just become a proliferation of these cameras statewide.”

Gov. Terry Branstad supports a statewide traffic camera ban, his spokesman said.

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But a total ban might be asking too much, said the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said a more likely approach would be to create parameters for traffic camera installation and standardize fines across the state.

“For some, that’s their priority is to get rid of those (traffic cameras),” Byrnes said. “To be quite honest with you, my approach has been more of, I don’t know if we can get rid of all traffic cameras. I think that potentially, what’s here is here to stay. I think moving forward we do have the need for some sort of protocol, some standardization, if you will.”

Other transportation- and public safety-related bills that have been filed:

* A person could have his or her driver’s license revoked if he or she is stopped on suspicion of operating while intoxicated and refuses to take a blood test.

Under current law, an OWI suspect can have his or her license revoked only if he or she refuses to take a breath test. The bill was filed by the Department of Public Safety.

*Any peace officer who engaged in a “sex act” with any prisoner or individuals in the custody of the corrections or judicial departments would be guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail and fines between $625 and $6,250. The bill was filed by the Department of Public Safety.

* The penalty for sexual misconduct with corrections offenders and juveniles by corrections department officers or other personnel would be increased from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and fines between $750 and $7,500. The bill was filed by the Department of Corrections.

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