Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm Column: Cracking down on texting while driving for safer roads

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March 2014 Column by Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm: Recent polls show 83 percent of Iowans want tougher laws for texting while driving. The Iowa Senate responded with a bipartisan vote to strengthen penalties and enforcement.

Texting is the most dangerous form of driver distraction. It makes the chance of an accident 23 times greater because it takes our mind off driving, our eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel. Drivers who text have slower reaction times, are 70 percent less likely to stay in their lane and often fail to notice traffic signs.

Between 2001 and 2012, about 8,000 Iowa crashes were the result of drivers distracted by a phone or other device. These crashes resulted in almost 4,000 injuries and dozens of deaths. Nonetheless, 85 percent of drivers report using a cell phone while driving, according to experts from the University of Iowa.

In 2010, Iowa made it a crime to write, read or send a text message while driving, but the law is a secondary offense for adults. That means an officer can only write a ticket for texting if he pulls you over for another violation, such as speeding. Texting behind the wheel is a primary offense in 37 states and Washington, D.C., including such neighboring states as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

This week, the Senate approved Senate File 2289, which would make texting while driving a primary offense in Iowa as well. It would give officers the authority to pull over a driver specifically for texting. It also makes texting while driving a moving violation, meaning drivers will accrue points on their license.

Teens have been the primary focus of Iowa’s texting and driving laws and education efforts. But they aren’t the only ones practicing this dangerous behavior. A recent report from AAA indicates that drivers ages 25 to 39 are the most distracted by their cellphones.

Even more disheartening, many parents are not setting a good example. When educators from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau talk with Iowa teens about the dangers of distracted driving, half the students say their parents text while driving.

UPCOMING PUBLIC FORUMS

• Saturday, March 15, 9:30 a.m.: Mitchell County Listening Post at St. Ansgar City Hall

• Saturday, March 15, 11:30 a.m.: Howard County Listening Post at the Cresco Library

• Saturday, March 29, 9 a.m.: Chickasaw County Legislative Forum at the Farm Bureau Building in New Hampton

• Saturday, March 29, 11 a.m.: Floyd County Listening Post at Aromas Coffee, 105 N. Main Street, Charles City

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