Law change recommendedPolice want crackdown on texting and driving
Law enforcement officials all agree—distracted driving is becoming a big problem, especially texting while driving.
“A text message takes an average of four to five seconds to write and at 55 miles per hour (mph) you’re traveling the length of a football field without looking at the roadway,” said Sgt. Scott Bright, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS). “When you take your eyes off the road during those four to five seconds a lot of things could happen.”
Across the state, accidents from distracted driving, are increasing, Bright said. This is why DPS officials are asking the state legislators to review texting while driving in their next legislative session.
“We would like to see them make it [texting while driving] a primary offense, either under a subsection of the law in careless driving or with failure to maintain control,” Bright said. “Right now, it’s a secondary offense, which means we can’t just stop someone for texting.”
Every day he sees drivers texting, while out on patrol.
“Just the other day I saw someone texting and driving,” he said. “But I couldn’t pull them over because I didn’t have probable cause and the driver wasn’t doing anything else wrong. What I keep telling people is to put the phones away while they’re driving and don’t text while driving. The text messages will be there when you arrive.”
Since July 2011, only 180 violations for texting while driving has been issued by DPS because of the way the law is written, Bright said, but accidents from distracted drivers have increased.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in accidents caused by drivers who are distracted from using their phone while driving,” he said. “It’s not just the texting anymore, either. Some people are e-mailing or using Facebook while driving now, which in turn causes more accidents.”
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman agrees with Bright about the need for the law to be changed to a primary offense. He said enforcing the texting-while-driving ban is frustrating and difficult.
“I think it would be a good thing if the law was reviewed,” Goodman said. “There is a lot of texting while driving that is going on.”
At one time not wearing your seat belt was a secondary offense until the Iowa Legislature made it a primary offense, Goodman said.
“Not wearing your seatbelt was hard to enforce because you couldn’t just pull the driver over for that,” he said. “It’s the same exact thing for texting while driving.”
Calls about distracted drivers swerving all over the roadway or texting while driving has definitely increased, he said.
“When people are paying attention to their phones, they’re not paying attention to driving,” Goodman said. “It’s not just a safety issue for the drivers but for the passengers in the vehicle and the other drivers on the road or in the lane next to you.”
The push to have the law reviewed is a good reminder to people that texting while driving is dangerous, Goodman said.
“Hopefully, this will bring more awareness to the issue,” he said.
Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said the sheriff’s department has also seen an increase in calls related to people texting while driving or accidents that have occurred, but he doesn’t know by how much.
“It’s a serious problem, I would say,” Dunbar said. “What people don’t realize is when they’re reaching for the phone or looking at the phone while driving, drivers tend to pull the 2,000-pound vehicle in that direction.”
People also aren’t focused when they’re using their phone while driving, he said.
“I can understand people needing to use their phone for business while driving, but not texting,” Dunbar said. “If you need your phone for business, then use a headset or go with a wireless connection. Also, the texting can wait, unless it’s really important. If it’s really important and you need to answer the text right away, then pull off the road and answer it.”