DES MOINES — Concern about state finances and a shortened 2010 legislative session may work against passage of legislation to prevent distracted driving, such as texting, a pair of Iowa lawmakers said Wednesday.

“It seems like common sense that we wouldn’t need a law to say don’t text while driving,” Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, said on Iowa Public Radio’s The Exchange. It’s a safety issue because studies have found using a cell phone while driving can be just as risky as driving while intoxicated, he said.

However, the National Safety Council says driving while distracted — talking or texting on a cell phone — is a factor in one in five traffic accidents. Driving while distracted causes 636,000 accidents and 2,600 deaths every year, the council said, and drivers chatting on cell phones are four times more likely to crash than those who aren’t.

“Common sense tells us this is a good starting point,” former Iowa State Patrol trooper Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, said about his plan to introduce legislation dealing primarily with texting while driving. “As a former trooper, I know that as soon as you see a driver using both hands to do something else that requires concentration on the instrument, it just spells bad things.”

His legislation may amend the reckless driving section of Iowa law to specifically prohibit texting while driving, Tjepkes said. The challenge is to how to legally define texting as well as write a law that is enforceable.

Both Tjepkes, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, and Rielly are hopeful 2010 is the year the legislature moves beyond discussion to act on driving while distracted legislation.

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Grappling with the state’s fiscal crisis will be lawmakers’ priority and leaders already have shortened the session from 100 days to 80 days, Tjepkes noted.

“I’m concerned that with an issue like this it takes quite a while to go through the process from subcommittee to committee to the floor in both chambers,” he said. “I’m concerned with the time constraints.”

Rielly expects there will be some opposition from people who see a ban on cell phone use by drivers as “just another step toward a nanny state.”


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