Texting and driving

Local law enforcement are hoping a new law will help decrease distracted driving in Iowa.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY BETH VAN ZANDT, MUSCATINE JOURNAL

CEDAR RAPIDS — When Iowa’s texting ban went into effect seven years ago — then only as a secondary offense — motorists were given a year before law enforcement would start writing citations for violators.

But there’ll be no such grace period this time around. Authorities said this week that when the updated texting ban goes into effect on Saturday, law enforcement will be issuing tickets right away.

“I think the public has been given ample notice that texting while driving is illegal,” Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said. “As far as giving them notice, I think they’ve had plenty of notice.”

Under the texting ban law, drivers above the age of 18 can use their phones only to make phone calls and use its GPS, Iowa State Patrol spokesman Alex Dinkla said. Using the phones to text, for social media or to play games while driving is forbidden.

The law also makes these activities a primary offense, meaning law enforcement will be able to make a traffic stop solely for a texting-while-driving violation.

Violating the texting ban will result in a $100.50 fine, Dinkla said. Those fines will not escalate with subsequent violations, and because the charge is not a moving violation, citations will not affect a motorist’s driving record.

Under the old law, which went into effect on July 1, 2010, texting while driving was a secondary offense. That meant law enforcement officers had to have another reason to pull someone over.

The law at the time granted motorists a one-year grace period — which ended June 30, 2011 — when law enforcement would issue only warnings for texting-ban violations.

Dinkla said the previous law pertained solely to texting. The updated version addresses other phone-related activities.

“Now, when we see them texting, Facebooking or playing games on their phone, we will be able to stop those drivers and take appropriate action,” he said.

Although Dinkla said he predicts an increase in traffic stops, Gardner said he doubts the updated texting ban will lead to any significant changes for his deputies.

“The only big difference is we won’t have to try to find another violation to stop them for,” Gardner said.

Although the new law is a “step in the right direction,” it will be difficult to enforce, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said.

“The new law would still allow a driver to use a phone to make a phone call or use GPS functions on the phone,” he said. “This will make it challenging for an officer to discern whether someone was actually texting, making a phone call or using GPS.”

The changes to the texting ban do not affect drivers under the age of 18, who are barred from using their phones at all while driving, Dinkla said.

Dinkla said if motorists are having a hard time ignoring their phones while driving, they should set the phone to vibrate or simply turn it off. He added that motorists should not pull over to the side of the road to use their phones.

“Get to a safe location where you can make that call without having to worry about anybody rear-ending you,” he said.

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