Few Warnings Given in Iowa’s New Texting Ban

May 24, 2011

Law enforcement officials in Iowa say a new law that makes it illegal to text and drive has been difficult to enforce.

The Legislature enacted a law last year that bans texting while driving and forbids the state’s youngest motorists from using cellphones while driving. The goal was to reduce crashes caused by distracted drivers, but lawmakers wanted to ease into the new law, giving motorists a one-year grace period that ends June 30. Starting July 1, violators could be fined $30.

Lawmakers also made texting while driving a secondary offense, which means officers can’t stop a texting driver unless they are violating another law. The restrictions have made some law enforcement agencies apathetic or unwilling to enforce the law, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids reported.

“What I have been hearing is since it’s a warning only, is that we’re not going to break our backs to enforce it,” said Bremer County Sheriff Dewey Hildebrandt, president of the Iowa State Sheriff’s and Deputies Association. “Clearly, too, if it had been a primary enforcement action, it would be more likely to have an effect.”

Hildebrandt said his office doesn’t track verbal warnings and has not issued any warning tickets for texting while driving.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said he couldn’t find any warning tickets issued by his department. Linn County Sheriff Maj. Gerald Hansel said his department has given only verbal warnings.

The Cerro Gordo Sheriff’s Department has issued one warning ticket since the law took effect. The Scott County Sheriff’s Office has issued four written warnings in the past year under all categories covered by the law.

The Iowa State Patrol has issued 52 warning citations for violating the new law since Jan. 1. Twenty-three of those were for texting and driving.

Hildebrandt said he hopes to see enforcement stepped up after the grace period ends.

“I hope when we get closer to July 1 that we’ll see more of that, to remind people that this is the law,” he said.

Jessica Lown, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said an education campaign about the new law may be ramped up again as July 1 approaches.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said texting while driving is akin to someone driving after having four beers and makes him or her 23 times more likely to crash.

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