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Texting while driving now will see fine in Iowa

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the drive … without your cell phone.

The distracted-driving bill signed more than a year ago today, banning texting for all drivers, can now be enforced with a fine.

At first glance, the fine reads $30, but after court fees in Johnson County, a driver will owe $120.75, Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton confirmed.

“Any distractive driving can lead to collision,” she said, and the Iowa City police supports safe driving. “Obviously, if you’re texting, you’re distracted.”

The law prohibits drivers from reading, writing, and sending a message while driving, even at stop signs and stoplights.

“All you have to do is take a couple of minutes and pull over to the side,” Brotherton said.

She said the law says drivers must be off the traveled portion of the road and at a complete stop to text.

Because texting while driving is a secondary offense, officers cannot pull over individuals based only on assumption, making enforcement more difficult.

And with the majority of traffic collisions being minor in the area, texting violations are less likely to be investigated and documented, Brotherton said.

“We’re not going to confiscate your phone,” she said. “If a kid runs across the street, what did you get away with?”

Legislators will let the law run for a while before reviewing its effectiveness in January, said Rep. Dave Jacoby,D-Coralville.

“It’s a good law, but we won’t be able to give a full evaluation on the program until the program is six months underway,” Jacoby said. “What you also look at is the decrease in accidents, particularly in the young people who tend to text more than an old guy like me.”

No new legislation was brought up for the texting law as the legislative session closed Thursday night.

For now, officers in Iowa City will look for traffic violations and will not necessarily ask if a driver has been texting in minor instances.

“[Texting while driving] probably happens a lot more than it is documented,” Brotherton said.
Michelle Bjerke, 26, said she never texts while driving.

“I hardly talk on the phone,” the second year University of Iowa graduate student said and laughed. “It’s dangerous … [the fine] doesn’t seem like it’s enough money to be a deterrent.”

But Bjerke said having to pay a fine would be annoying.

Brian Lynch, the coordinator of Streets Smarts Drivers Education, said he feels the fine is not enough.

“What [legislators] need to do is not worry about the politics and worry about safety,” he said. “The definition of distraction is anything that takes your attention from driving.”

The law still allows drivers to use GPS devices, voice-command texting devices, digital-dispatch systems, and dialing numbers to make calls.

“I think they are all equally distractive,” Lynch said. “Hopefully, all the distracters will be made illegal, so that it eliminates the amount of accidents.”

Jacoby said legislators will look at reduced accidents, injuries, and the increase or total number of fines in January 2012.

Texting while driving is a non-moving offense, meaning violators will lose money but not their licenses.

“You may not get your license suspended, but there are other consequences,” Brotherton said, citing the costs of car repairs or loss of life as potential consequences. “You have to live with that forever.”


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