Senate bill to limit texting does not go far enough

Texting and driving is a deadly combination. This year the lawmakers in Des Moines have introduced Senate Study Bill 1002 to address the issue, but it still lacks teeth.

The current law makes it illegal to text behind the wheel, but a police officer can’t stop an adult driver for doing that.  A traffic stop would have to be for another offense, such as weaving within the lane or running a red light. Or even causing an accident.

The Senate Study Bill 1002 is “An Act relating to the use of electronic communication devices to write, send, or read text messages while driving as a primary offense,” but as written, it would still make it easy for offenders to lie their way out of a citation. Drivers who are pulled over could simply say they were not really texting; they were checking their GPS or some other untruth.

But even if it was true that they were checking their GPS, they should not be. Distracted driving kills. What Iowa needs is a law requiring hands off cell phones for all uses while driving.

The data of the past years shows how ineffective that law has been. In 2015, 14 fatalities and more than 600 injuries were attributed to distracted driving involving a handheld device, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

In June 2016 the total number of traffic deaths were brought to 170 people, the DOT reports. That increased 30 deaths from the five-year average of 140.

Back in 2014, Laura Maurer, a 40-year-old mother from Brooklyn, Iowa, caused one of the 22 traffic deaths recorded 2014.

On to get a payment from a client, she texted the client to let her know she was on her way.

A couple of minutes passed. Her phone dinged with a message. She drove. Her phone dinged again. She drove. Her phone dinged a third time. She reached over to the phone in the console, opened the message and scanned it.

Maurer looked up, and there sat Marvin Beck sitting in a small tractor pulling a tiller.

As she slammed on the brakes and swerved to land in a ditch … it was too late.

Beck plunged to his death through the windshield and dived head first into the ditch.

Maurer was sentenced 14 days in jail and 200 community service hours.

The data spoke loudly to Gov. Terry Branstad. During his Condition of the State message he spoke about a letter he received from the parents of a 21-year-old Riceville woman who was hit and killed while bicycling by a driver who allegedly was texting.

Branstad said, “I ask all Iowans to join the Iowa law enforcement community, first responders, the League of Cities, all of our major cell phone carriers, the insurance industry and the medical community in demanding real change in the laws for distracted and impaired drivers.”

I am all for the strengthening of the Senate Study Bill 1002, but still am not quite sold. Holding a phone and driving is a deadly combination.

If lawmakers are serious about saving lives on Iowa roads, they won’t replace one toothless law with another unenforceable law that’s bound to be broken multiple times.

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