Ottumwa Courier- The Iowa Senate moved forward Wednesday with a measure establishing fines for drivers who use their phones behind the wheel without voice-activated or hands-free technology.
Senate File 547 was approved by the Iowa Senate on Wednesday on a 47-3 vote. It’s a measure law enforcement officials have asked lawmakers to pass for four years, arguing it will help address rising problems with distracted drivers on Iowa roads.
Although texting while driving is already illegal in Iowa, Iowans are allowed to use their phones for calls and GPS directions, and cannot be ticketed for handling their phone while driving. Because drivers are allowed to have a phone in their hands while driving, it’s difficult for police officers and state troopers to enforce current distracted-driving laws.
The new legislation would ban all use of a phone by hand while driving. If signed by the governor, Iowa would join 30 states that already have laws banning handheld cellphone use while driving.
“Hindering drivers from messing with their phones by requiring a voice-activated or hands-free mode will not eliminate all the risks of distraction,” Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, said. “But it will define the line to not cross over, and by doing so, will improve safety on our roads.”
In previous sessions where the hands-free bill came up, there was insufficient support on the House Ways and Means Committee to advance the bill, Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, said in 2022, despite the measure having sufficient support in the chamber to pass on the House floor.
The bill would also increase fines for distracted-driving offenses, raising the fine for texting while driving from $45 to $100. If the violation results in a serious injury, the fine would increase to $500, and would increase to $1,000 if the incident was fatal, with the possibility of the driver’s license being suspended.
“We’ve all witnessed it as we’ve traveled highways, interstates, back and forth to the Capitol — 25 years ago, the problem was not as relevant,” Lofgren said. “But today it is commonplace and continues to get worse.”
The bill now goes to the House for consideration. In February, House Speaker Pat Grassley said his caucus had not discussed the hands-free bill.
“With 24 new members, I just genuinely don’t know what the overall feel is,” Grassley said. “In the past we haven’t had the level of support needed, and so I would want to be able to have that broader conversation, which we haven’t had at this point in time.”