Culver signs texting ban

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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Buckle up, obey the speed limit, and be a defensive driver. The rules of the road taught by driving schools across the state will add one more warning this year: Put your cell phone away.

On Thursday, Gov. Chet Culver signed a bill that bans texting for all drivers and also bans the use of cell phones for those with restricted licenses, instruction permits, intermediate licenses, or special minor’s licenses.

“As governor, my top priority is public safety,” Culver said in a press release. “It’s a commonsense, bipartisan bill that will save lives and keep Iowa drivers safe — especially our young people.”

The change will go into effect July 1, with officers only issuing warnings for the first year. After that, violators will be charged with a simple misdemeanor and pay a $30 fine, not including court costs.

Exceptions to the law include using GPS devices, voice-command texting devices, digital-dispatch systems, or entering a phone number to make a call.

However, the law is slightly different for adults. Police cannot pull over adult drivers primarily for using electronic devices unless they break another law, such as getting into an accident or running a red light.

Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, said despite several wording changes, not everyone is satisfied with the outcome.

“I agree that teens should be learning how to avoid distractions while driving,” she said. “But I don’t think adults should get off with the same behavior.”

Some UI students are dissatisfied with the law.

“There’s a whole lot of things you can do while you’re driving, but when you pick one thing and target that, it doesn’t solve the problem,” said UI graduate student Elizabeth Westlake.

Westlake, who has done research on teen drivers and distractions, argues that lawmakers should look at other distractions, such as car radios and eating while driving.

Those who have experienced firsthand the dangers of distracted driving are pleased with the change.

“I’ve cut down a lot and try to only text when I’m at red lights,” said UI junior Allia Janning, whose friend was killed in a texting-and-driving accident.

Violations of the law resulting in death may tack on a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days license-suspension, on top of the other fees.

On the UI campus, driving and distractions have been studied at the National Advanced Driving Simulator — the most advanced ground-vehicle simulator in the world.

While research has not yet specifically targeted texting and driving, testing various components of the issue is in the works, said Assistant Director Omar Ahmad.

Still, some question how the violation will be enforced.

“It will be difficult to keep track of,” said UI senior Diana Holtwick, who doesn’t text while driving. “Especially in accidents — it would be hard for people to admit they were texting when they got in an accident.”

Other students believe the new law won’t change old habits.

“I don’t think it will change things,” said UI junior Ryan Ness, who admitted he texts at stop lights. “We’re used to doing it — I mean we do it in class, too. It’s part of our culture.”

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