Stricter Texting While Driving Bill Considered in Iowa

Iowa lawmakers granted initial approval Tuesday of a bill that would further crack down on texting while driving by allowing officers to pull over motorists suspected of that sole offense.

A three-member Senate transportation subcommittee unanimously approved the measure. It goes to the full Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday.

Current law prohibits texting while driving, but police can only enforce the law if they notice the violation after pulling a person over for another infraction, such as speeding. Under the bill, officers could stop a person suspected of texting while driving, regardless of whether there is another violation.

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, who sponsored the bill, shared an instance of texting while driving he witnessed. He said he was driving on Interstate 80 during a snowstorm when he noticed one car swerving between lanes because the driver was texting.

Such situations are common, Bowman said, and need to be addressed.

“I know I’m not the only one who experiences this,” he said.

Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, said the bill would reduce dangers associated with texting while driving by bringing more attention to the issue.

In 2010, when lawmakers first considered texting while driving legislation, Kapucian said he was in favor of punishing a driver for texting as a secondary offense. At the time, Kapucian said he didn’t want to give officers the authority to stop drivers only for texting because he didn’t think it was necessary.

Kapucian said he now thinks it’s vital to treat texting while driving as a primary offense.

“The citizens of Iowa have changed my mind, not by their phone calls but by their actions,” he said.

Iowa’s Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety haven’t taken a position on the bill, though lobbyists expressed their support for taking more action to reduce texting while driving.

Lawmakers said the measure is a step in the right direction to perhaps address the overarching issue of distracted driving in future legislation.