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Police start enforcing texting ban today

BY KATE FOWLER | JULY 01, 2010 7:20 AM

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A new Iowa law that becomes effective today will prohibit texting for all ages and cell phone use of any kind for those under 18 while driving.

The new legislation has the promise to significantly curb traffic collisions involving teens and young adults, said Rod Van Wyk, a University of Iowa alumnus and president of Drive Tek, a local drivers’ education program.

While this law is a step in the right direction, he said, excessive phone use among drivers is part of a larger issue: distracted driving.

“This is a well-intentioned law, and if we can get people to obey it, we will hopefully see significantly fewer accidents,” he said.

UI sophomore Alex Flippinger knows about the consequences of using a cell phone while driving all too well.

“A few years ago, I got into a major accident and my car flipped five times — I was reaching for my phone,” the 19-year-old said.

The National Safety Council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic crashes — at least 1.6 million each year — are caused by cell-phone use and texting.

Under the new Iowa law, texting — or cell-phone use of any sort for drivers under 18 — and driving will be treated as a secondary offense. This means the driver must be pulled over for something else before they can be charged with texting and driving.

Drivers will receive warnings for this non-moving violation until July 1, 2011, when officers will begin issuing fines. The cost of the fine has yet to be determined, Brotherton said.

UI sophomore Nandita Srayoshi admits she occasionally texts and drives.

“Maybe it will be a good reminder for people to stay concentrated,” she said, and she may be more inclined to refrain from texting while behind the wheel.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said teens and young adults often have trouble grasping the dangers of distracted driving, with disastrous results.

“Anything that distracts a driver can have a potentially dangerous outcome, especially with inexperienced drivers,” she said.

When it comes to distracted driving, parental involvement and role-modeling for teen drivers can be crucial, said Brian Lynch, program coordinator of Street Smarts, a drivers’ education program.

Because the law allows people 18 and older to make calls while driving, the law does not enforce similar safe-driving practices involving cell-phone use for adults, he said.

And many believe the cell-phone law will be difficult to enforce.

It can be unclear, upon pulling a car over, whether the driver is using a cell phone. Texting can be done inconspicuously, and the phone quickly put away when the user is pulled over.

There are also restrictions governing private communications, which require court orders or search warrants before officers can search through a person’s phone activity, Van Wyk said.

Another traffic law going into effect today will require all back-seat passengers under 18 to use a seat belts.

Overall, it’s not yet clear how effective the new cell-phone law will be in preventing accidents.

“The most we can do [as driving instructors] is set a good example,” Van Wyk said. “After that, it becomes the responsibility of the kids and their parents.”


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