Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 30, 2014

Make Iowa’s texting-while-driving law a primary offense

By Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, June 13 | Jun 19, 2014

While data continue to show a direct correlation between texting while driving and tragedy, Iowa continues to list it as a “secondary offense.”

That means in most cases an officer cannot pull over a texting driver unless that driver is doing something else wrong.

Iowa Department of Transportation crash reports show the anti-texting law enacted in July 2011 has done nothing to decrease cellphone-related crashes. Instead, they have increased at a steady pace. Data for 2013 remain preliminary, but already show the highest number of phone-related crashes since 2009.

In a recent investigation, IowaWatch examined state laws, traffic reports, studies and crash data for Iowa and other states and interviewed visual attention specialists, traffic safety officials, experts, statisticians, legislators and law enforcement officers.

While texting-related crashes have increased in recent years, Iowa convicted on average only 2.5 drivers per county for texting last year, according to the investigation.

“Texting while driving has become ubiquitous,” said Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division.

That’s to say, “existing or being everywhere at the same time.”

It’s unquestionably a frustration for law enforcement officers policing our roadways, who see this behavior and have to let it go. That means allowing a driver to proceed while engaging in behavior that increases the chances for a tragedy.

While such crashes are believed to be severely underreported, Cellphones have accounted for more than 7,000 crashes statewide in the past decade, killing 24 people.

Almost all states ban texting while driving. Only four states, however, fail to enforce it as a primary offense. Those are Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Florida.

The law would certainly get the attention of more offenders if it were upgraded to a primary enforcement law. That in turn could make our highways and streets safer for all.

That’s a pretty good reason to put some teeth in the Iowa law.

Yes, cellphones and other devices have created a modern convenience in our lives. However, we’ve come to a point where too many drivers believe it is too much of an inconvenience to wait until they can pull over in order to read or send a text.

It’s that sort of mentality that will continue to cause easily avoidable tragedies.

Earlier this year, Kara Macek, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, said texting laws have the same genesis seat belt laws did a couple of decades ago.

“States go for secondary laws first, then it begins transitioning into a primary law,” she said.

As the data continue to pour in, we’d say that transition cannot come soon enough.

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