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Officials mull texting and driving ban

BY ALYSSA GUZMAN | APRIL 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa legislators seek to turn texting and driving into a primary offense — even though it could be a difficult infraction to prove. Forty-five states ban text messaging for all drivers, but Iowa is not one of them.

But the local officials say it would be a good tool to keep Iowans safe.

“I am a little surprised that it has taken this long, because obviously, texting and driving is an issue,” Iowa City police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said. “If it does become a primary offense, I certainly think it would be another tool to assist in not only pedestrian and bike safety but also motor vehicle operating safety.”

Gaarde said if this does become a primary offense in Iowa, it would result in more citations.

Because the bill is still waiting approval in the House, Gaarde said there have been a few citations in Iowa, but they’re a rarity because texting and driving has always been a secondary offense, meaning officers cannot pull drivers over for texting and driving. Officers can only issue these citations after the driver has been pulled over for a different traffic offense.

Several states, including California, have labeled texting and driving as a primary offense for several years now.  

The law went into effect in California on Jan. 1, 2009.

Chris Cothran, an official in the California Office of Traffic Safety, said he’s surprised it has taken other states so long to jump on board.

“It’s been evident to the traffic-safety world that use of mobile devices has increased the amount of distracted driving and increased the number of crashes,” Cothran said. “There’s no real good reason to refute [the law.]”

But it could be a difficult offense to prove.

Adam Pollack, an Iowa City criminal lawyer, said he believes a case concerning texting while driving would be difficult to hold up in court. 

 “I mean, they would have to prove the person was actually texting,” he said. 

 In order to gain that proof, officers would have to search the suspect’s phone, which would require obtaining a search warrant. 

“It would be very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Pollock said. 

But Cothran said that since the law has came into effect, the number of people using their cell phones while driving has gone down.

The number of people in California who used cell phones while driving peaked in 2012, with 12 percent of drivers using their cell phones.

Now, that number is just under 7 percent.

Cothran said texting is a more common method of communication for younger people.

According to a website about texting and driving safety, 13 percent of drivers ages 18 to 20 involved in car crashes admitted to texting or talking on their cell phones during the time of the crash.

Additionally, 34 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds said they have texted while driving.

Cothran also said he believes the number of convictions for texting and driving has gone up because of police officers’ increased awareness.

“Now that they’ve been doing it for several years, police officers are getting better at seeing it,” he said.


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