Iowa: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: July 25, 2014
Distracted driving news: The Senate approved state Sen. Tod Bowman’s bill prohibiting most forms of wireless communications by drivers, but the House didn’t find the time as time elapsed on legislation for 2014. Bowman blamed House Speaker Kraig Paulsen for not pushing through the distracted driving measure as the “funnel” deadline for legislation came and went.

Flag of Iowa for texting law postSF 2289, as amended by Bowman, targeted “electronic communication” — text messaging, viewing social media sites, emailing. But not cell phone calls. He cited “an epidemic of texting while driving” and sought primary enforcement, instead of the current secondary enforcement for texting by adult drivers. The full Senate signed off on SF 2289 on March 11.

The House Transportation Committee chief said he was open to the Senate’s bill but expressed concern there would not be enough time to push it through the system.

Teen distracted drivers already are subject to primary enforcement in Iowa, but the Bowman plan targeted all drivers: “This isn’t about teenagers texting anymore,” Bowman said. “It’s about us. It’s about adults.”

Law enforcement’s Joint Public Safety Board had a primary-enforcement texting law as one of its top five legislative priorities for 2014. Patrick Hoye, head of the Governor’s Transportation Safety Bureau, lobbied the Senate Transportation Committee for an escalation of enforcement Jan. 22. He encountered member concerns about “basic rights.”

Current prohibitions:

  • Adults banned from text messaging while driving. Secondary enforcement. Fine: $30.
  • Teenage drivers prohibited from using handheld electronic devices. Primary enforcement. Fine: $50.

Read the Iowa distracted driving statutes breakdown (DMV).

Distracted driving legislation (2014):
Senate File 2289: Would outlaw engaging in “electronic communication” while driving in Iowa. Allows for use of cell phones, but targets general Internet use, social media, texting, etc. Hands-free OK. Primary enforcement. Moving violation. Approved by the Transportation Department on Feb. 24. Major amendment by sponsor March 4. Approved by the full Senate in a 41-7 vote of March 11. Died in the House on March 14. (Transportation Committee/Bowman)

Senate Study Bill 3191: Would make text messaging while driving a primary offense. Applies to all drivers. (Transportation Committee/Bowman). Now SF 2289, above.

Distracted driving notes (2014):
State Sen. Tod Bowman’s distracted driving plan was approved in late February by the Transportation Committee, no surprise since it originated with panel chairman Bowman.

Sen. Tim Kapucian is no longer a fan of secondary enforcement for texting & driving. “The citizens of Iowa have changed my mind, not by their phone calls but by their actions,” he said. Kapucian later added: “It’s not about how many people we can pull over or how many tickets we can write it’s about getting the word out that this is not a practice that should be occurring.”

Iowa Department of Public Safety officials are pushing lawmakers for an expansion of the state’s law against failure to maintain control of a vehicle — with the goal of allowing police to stop and cite distracted drivers.

The state’s secondary enforcement status for texting & driving by adults is widely seen as ineffectual. With primary enforcement, police would not need another reason to cite motorists whose electronic distractions cause them to not have their vehicles under control. The existing statute for not being in control brings a moving-violation fine of $100, compared with a $30 misdemeanor for texting.

State Sen. David Johnson says he won’t make another push for his Senate File 33 of 2013 (below), which called for primary enforcement of distracted driving. The bill failed to find much support in committee.

Three traffic deaths in 2013 were linked to distracted driving, the Iowa Department of Transportation reports.

81 deaths on Iowa roads have been linked to distracted driving for the years 2003-2013, the state DOT reports. About a third of crashes involve electronic communications devices. Nearly 1,000 people are injured in an average 1,800 distracted driving crashes a year, the Department of Public Safety says.

2013 distracted driving notes:
Senate Transportation Committee chief Tod Bowman calls distracted driving “a big, big problem.” He’s researching what other states have done to permit police more discretion in pulling over vehicles that may be operating erratically, he told Source Media in late December.

Iowa’s State Police report a mere 181 tickets written for electronic distracted driving since 2010. Officers say the secondary enforcement status for texting & driving by adults is to blame. That low number, reported in November 2013, is the same as reported nine months ago.

Why can’t state police catch offenders? “We typically work out on the interstates and the state highways,” a spokesman told KTIV. “We are a moving billboard.”

That low number is consistent with a late summer report from the Department of Public Safety indicating police statewide have stopped and written up 467 motorists for texting & driving since Iowa’s distracted driving law took effect July 1, 2010. They weren’t all tickets with teeth, either. About 225 were warnings for texting violations, a DPS spokesman told Hands Free Info.

Iowa’s DOT is building a cell phone app called “txtl8r” that would cut off the mobile devices once vehicles are in motion. The software also would allow parents to monitor some of their children’s online activities. The highly publicized job was awarded in November to Aegis Mobility, developer of the TeenSafer software. Look for the app to hit the streets in January 2014.

The DOT plans to give the distracted driving app to teens between the ages of 14 and 17. Total cost to the state is estimated at $480,000 per year.

In Sioux City, police have written 10 distracted driving tickets in the 3 1/2 years since the state law went into effect. This year’s total: 1.

State Sen. David Johnson’s Senate File 33 of 2013 called for primary enforcement of distracted driving: “It’s a matter of offering officers cause to stop the driver and make sure that they’re driving safely,” said sponsor Johnson, R-Ocheyedan. “People know there is a problem but … it is very difficult to define.” The bill failed to advance. Several senators said the measure was too sweeping despite “somewhat of an epidemic” of distracted driving on Iowa streets and highways. In subcommittee debate Aug. 16, an ACLU representative expressed fears of racial profiling.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, says legislators should “not just have a knee-jerk reaction and pass a law” to combat distracted driving. “I think technology is going to solve technology,” he told the Quad-City Times in mid-March.

The Iowa State Patrol is buying three driving simulators in an effort to spread the word about the dangers of texting and using cell phones behind the wheel. The simulators, with wrap-around video screens and a mock steering wheel, were funded by State Farm in a $25,000 grant. “By demonstration and continued education, the Iowa State Patrol believes that we will see a decrease in fatalities among young Iowa motorists,” ISP said in a release of Jan. 15. The simulators will be used in schools, civic organizations, churches, driver education classes and businesses.

Legislation: text messaging, cell phones (2013):
Senate File 33: Would establish the offense of driving while engaged in a distracted activity. Includes use of cell phone. Primary enforcement. Fine: $30. If serious injury occurs, fine of up to $500 and possible license suspension. In case of a death, fine $1,000 and possible suspension. Legislation would repeal current texting law (Code section321.238), which is limited to secondary enforcement. Before a Senate transportation subcommittee, which conducted a hearing in mid-February. (Johnson)

House File 412: Would prohibit driving while using a handheld mobile phone. Secondary enforcement. Use of fixed GPS or other navigation system allowed. As with current texting law, provides loophole for receiving weather and safety information on the device. Fine: $30. Non-moving violation. Further penalty of up to $1,000 and a 180-day license suspension for causing serious injury or death while talking on a cell phone. Prohibits confiscation of cell phones by police. (Thede, Hanson, Hunter)

2012 distracted driving notes:
Iowa’s ban on texting while driving took effect in summer 2010, but the tickets and fines came into play July 1, 2011. Text messaging while driving brings penalties of $30 with fines up to $1,000 for causing a serious accident while texting.

While the $30 distracted driving fine is among the lowest in the nation, a 35 percent surcharge and court fees likely will send the total cost above $100. No points are charged against the offender’s drivers license.

Distracted driving was linked to 679 Iowa traffic crashes in 2011, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau says.

No distracted driving legislation emerged from the 84th General Assembly in 2012.

Gov. Terry Branstad, who took office after the texting ban was enacted, does not appear to support a handheld cell phone ban.

Only 119 convictions for text messaging have been recorded since the state’s distracted driving law went into effect last summer, the Department of Transportation said in June 2012. The State Patrol issued 96, plus another 48 warnings.

Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, who sponsored the texting legislation in 2010, expects state lawmakers to re-visit the issue of primary vs. secondary enforcement, the Gazette (Cedar Rapids) reported.

Don’t look for Iowa to expand its ban on texting while driving to include cell phones, legislators said (correctly) in advance of the 2012 session.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Transportation Committee member, told SourceMedia that he’d doesn’t see any changes being made in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal agreed, saying the creation of any new ban “is a bit of a long shot.” Danielson said, however, that he’d be open to discussing the addition of cell phones to the texting law.

Introduced in 2011, the handheld cell phone bill HF 530 from Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, failed to advance.

2011-12 distracted driving legislation (dead):
HF 630: Would outlaw use of handheld electronic devices while driving, including cell phones. Hands free OK. Assigned to Transportation subcommittee Jan. 11, 2012. (Steckman)

2011 Iowa distracted driving notes:
The 2011 legislative session ended without legislation addressing distracted driving issues. Future legislation could address the use of handheld cell phones, the secondary enforcement of the texting law — often cited elsewhere as weak and ineffective — and the low text messaging fine of $30.

The state Department of Transportation wants to limit what it says are unintended penalties from the ban on teens using handheld electronic devices. The DOT believes first-time teen violators would be forced into meeting SR22 insurance requirements, typically imposed on drunken drivers. Instead, the DOT seeks a change in the reporting on the teen’s driving record that would lead to sanctions such as a temporary ban on passengers or a 30-day license suspension.

2010 legislation:
HF 2456 (compromise): Will outlaw text messaging for all drivers in Iowa. Secondary enforcement. $30 fine with fines up to $1,000 for causing a serious accident while texting. Will prohibit teenage drivers with learners’ permits from using handheld electronic devices. Secondary enforcement for adults, but not teens. Will nullify any local ordinances. Begins July 1, 2010, with a one-year warning (education) period. Approved by the House and Senate on March 23. Signed by the governor on April 1. (House-Senate compromise committee).

HF 2456: Would ban the sending of text messaging while driving. Reading messages allowed. Fines start at $30. If an injury results from the texting, fine would be $500 plus license suspension. With a death $1,000 plus license suspension. Would take effect July 1, with a one-year warning period. Approved by the House (Feb. 23, 65-31 vote) and then immediately by the Senate (Feb. 24, 44-6 vote). The House then changed the bill to call for only a ban on handheld electronic devices for teenage drivers (March 8, 55-41). Approved in a compromise version by the House and Senate on March 23 (above). Formerly HF 2021 (Tjepkes).

Iowa House File 2020: Would ban all drivers from text messaging or using cell phones unless a hands-free accessory was employed. Fine of $30. (Abdul-Samad)

Iowa Senate File 2032: Would prohibit people who are operating motor vehicles from text messaging. Fine of $100. (Bolkcom)

Senate Study Bill 3070: Would outlaw text messaging and related activities for all drivers in Iowa. Applies reckless-driving fines and jail time to text messaging violations. (Rielly)

SF 2321: Would outlaw text messaging while driving. Withdrawn Feb. 24 in favor of HF 2456, above.

Iowa cell phone legislation notes (2010):
In April 2010, Gov. Chet Culver signed into law the distracted driving legislation that bans text messaging for all drivers and prohibits teens with restricted licenses from using all handheld electronic devices while behind the wheel. The law hit the streets July 1, 2010, with the one-year warning (education) period ending a year later.

The measure (HF 2456, below) was a compromise between the House and Senate that made enforcement of the adult texting law secondary, meaning police need another reason to stop violators before writing the citation. Teen offenders (14-18) can be pulled over and cited for violations without other cause.

“The people of Iowa have had it,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said before the vote. “They don’t want people texting and driving.”

“I believe there will be a texting law … before we adjourn,” House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, said after the texting compromise bill was fashioned on March 18. The deal was sealed March 23 and signed by the governor a week later.

The House’s abrupt shift in favor of a text messaging ban that targets only teen drivers was necessary because the votes were not there for a full texting ban, lawmakers said. The change was bipartisan, the AP reported.

The Senate’s approval of HF 2456 came with an amendment that added “reading” to the prohibited text messaging activities while driving. Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, says the version of his text messaging bill approved by the House on Feb. 23 didn’t ban the reading of text messages while driving because of a “political tradeoff.” Opponents say the plan as originally written probably would cost the state highway funding from the federal government.

The chairman of the Iowa House Transportation Committee expects the Legislature to outlaw texting and driving in 2010: “I think given the circumstances of what’s happened lately — what the media has been reporting and actual tragedies (as a result of texting while driving) — it’s a good probability that we’ll take something up that will prohibit that activity,” said Rep. Brian Quirk, D-New Hampton.

The 2010 legislative session has been shortened to 80 days. Budget matters could lock up most of the legislative channels, possibly leaving distracted driving legislation in limbo for another year. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver says he would sign a bill that seeks to ban text messaging for drivers, but agrees that the economy is the prime concern.

Dubuque’s City Council voted Feb. 15 to prohibit handheld cell phone use and text messaging by drivers. The ban goes into effect days after the 7-0 vote. Fines are $50/$250 if an accident results. Dubuque is the first municipality in Iowa to enact a distracted driving ordinance, according to the Telegraph Herald. “It’s way past time something gets done,” Mayor Roy Buol said in January 2010, noting a lack of state laws. “If we have to be the leaders, then we have to be the leaders.”

72 percent of adults surveyed by the Iowa Poll/Des Moines Register responded that text messaging and driving deserved the Legislature’s attention during the shortened session. The telephone poll was conducted in early February 2010. (No other topic received more than a 42 percent approval.)

Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, introduced HF 2021, a bill banning text messaging while driving on Iowa roads and highways. The former Iowa State Patrol trooper says of the shortened session: “I’m concerned with the time constraints.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, says chances of passing a distracted driving bill by April are improving, with new interest from legislators.

Iowa parents overwhelmingly favor a statewide ban on text messaging while driving, according to a 2010 telephone poll. The University of Iowa/University of North Carolina survey found that 97 percent of parents favored a texting ban and 90 percent supported a ban on cell phone use while driving.

2009 legislation:
HF 9 — Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving unless a hands-free device or headset is utilized. In transportation committee. (Also HF 84) Appears dead.

HF 155: Seeks to ban all Iowa drivers from using handheld cell phones and from text messaging. Appears dead.

HF 17: Would ban use of cellular phones and any other wireless communication device by drivers under the age of 18. Appears dead.

HF 353: Prohibits use of cell phones by drivers with provisional licenses. Appears dead.

SF 190: Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving on Iowa’s roads, unless a hands-free device or headset is utilized. Appears dead.

2009 cell phone, texting legislation notes:
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, introduced 2009′s HF 9. “My problem is those who try to dial or text-message while driving,” he said. The Iowa cell phone driving law would bring a $30 fine.

Previous cell phone legislation includes an attempt to mandate the assumption that a driver on a cell phone involved in an accident was at fault.

The 2008 session’s HB 2059 was sponsored by Rep. McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, who says he was motivated by a fatal crash caused by a teenage driver who was using a cell phone. Bailey has said he might support an expansion to adult drivers. Rep. Swati Dandekar chaired a subcommittee session on the Bailey proposal.

Attempts to regulate drivers’ cell phone use in Iowa date back to the late 1990s.

Comments

  1. I would personally like to see the bill pass, but I would like to see the penalties raised to the same as they are for drunk driving.

  2. Nick Jones says:

    I do’t see that we need a new law. traffic code 321.277 reckless driving should already cover this.

  3. Michelle says:

    Why don’t you have a bill, No eating in the car, no radio, no putting on make up, no shaving…

  4. I think you need to make it a law NOW,,,to many people out on the road paying more attention to their phones and texting them. I myself have a daughter that 33 no matter how many times we go some-wheres shes on that phone from the time we get in the car till she gets me back home safely… Ialready told her you arent driving my car around the block… we have come to close to accidents which would of been her fault.. Needs to become a law before innocent people out not using a cell phone gets hurt or killed by people that dont Think they will hurt anyone using the cell phone thank you FOR LISTENING… JILL..

  5. I DEFINITELY think it should be against the law to use a cell phone while driving, whether you are talking or texting. There have been too many accidents already due to this problem, and we need to put a stop to it before more innocent lives are taken. I can’t believe this has ever been allowed from day one!

  6. We live in the U.S.. Anything is “allowed” until it proves dangerous. I myself have done it, but don’t anymore after finding out how much it affects driving. I agree, it should be law. If you have any doubts about that, take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDOmwjgKBcI. And, despite your sarcasm, you may be on to something Michelle- eating, makeup, and shaving are all things I’ve seen people do behind the wheel that are so dangerous they should be banned to. I haven’t heard radio is as dangerous, but I could be wrong. The thing that gets me putting the ticket price at $30. What good will that do to break a habitual texter? None. The ticket cost should reflect the danger more.

  7. If the Idea is that being on your phone will distract you from the road, then the entire idea is stupid, you need your cell phone to drive safely and if you are on a bluetooth or something like it, you’re still going to be distracted from the road simply because you are having a conversation.

  8. I think it would be wise to make an example out of this. While I agree code 321.277 does cover this, the pervasiveness of the practice merits it being made an example of. I’ve been there and done that and agree that it is something that should be done. I would also add the use of other devices such as video making equipment as well. There is no shortage of individuals that take videos while driving where you can clearly see the steering wheel. I also would increase the fine to at least the same as drunk driving if not higher. 30$ isn’t enough for someone thats texting/talking with a handheld device while driving.

  9. I do agree something needs to be done, but I do find it very upsetting that when I do get lost when I am out of town that I cannot call someone (aka the hotel) and ask for directions. Or if I am running late due to a traffic accident that I cannot call into work to state I will be late? And I will always answer my cell phone if my child calls me from home. Not all of us are ignorant in the way we use our cell phone when it comes to driving. Will they ban the use of computers while driving for police officers who are running the plates of the car they are following while driving? Are hand held radios going to be banned from emergency vehicles? I wish they could find a way to only punish or prevent those who deserve the caution.

  10. Screw everyone that likes this law…the gov should be worrying about Jobs and money and crap like that…this is pointless and dumb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. i agree with half of what your saying….they should be worrying about the $ and jobs but textin while driving is important to..

    just think someone is driving and texting and you see they are and tehy are heading right towards you and BANG! your dead…… just because of texting while driving

  12. Personally. I think this law is great, and it’s about time that it started! I know from personal experience how painful it is to lose someone from texting and driving.

    Although, what i don’t agree with is that only 14-18 year olds are being told they can’t use hand-held devices in a vehicle. I personally think it should include adults as well. Teens these days are more used to electronic devices than adults any way. Some adults don’t even know how to open a text message on a phone let alone type one.

    I personally think that just because they have been driving longer, doesn’t mean they can handle using hand-held devices better. It’s just as dangerous as texting or talking on a cell phone. I just think it would be safer to make both parts of the law pertain to everybody.

  13. Fisrt off I have spoke to cops and this is what they say,”they can’t prove you were the one texting” for example if u have people with you they can’t prove you were the one texting on your phone. Friends share phones all the time… and when they say “i saw you with it” then go ahead n say of course you did i can read txt messages just not send them. This law is going to help nothing people are just as likely to crash reading as they are sending a message. Adults should have the same restrictions as the teenagers.
    There should be no law on this. There’s wreckless driveing tickets, and if so fine needs to be raised.

    < < i agree with half of what your saying….they should be worrying about the $ and jobs but textin while driving is important to..
    just think someone is driving and texting and you see they are and tehy are heading right towards you and BANG! your dead…… just because of texting while driving>>>

    IT’S CALLED BE A DEFENSIVE DRIVER MOVE OUT THE WAY (learned on day 1 of drivers ed)

  14. I agree it is dangerous but another law wasted time to make it. Why stop there pull everyone going through a drive though fast food. Is this not dangerous eating and driving? What about loud music so loud can hear it next to you at a stop light? What bout an officer looking at a computer screen goiing to a call? What about GPS the are looking at those not paying attention to the road? You see my point. This is another way for state to make money. When are we going to say enough is enough? We need to take action for ourselves not some law. Let start by worrying bad roads no jobs not maaking a law that we already have called reckless driving. So this means you get a ticket for cell phone use does your insurance go up? Just something to think about.

  15. yes, there are other distractions than just txting while driving, but the reason that there is a law against txting, whether strict or not, is that it is the most dangerous, it passed up drunk driving, just look up statistics, its DANGEROUS, DEADLY! and still being able to READ txts is almost worse than SENDING. The fact that this is secondary is ridiculous, that’s like saying, you wont get in trouble for murder unless you robbed them too, its stupid, needs to be changed, i still dont feel safe on the roads, oh, and im 14

  16. while i am for sure for this bill but what im not for is making it secondary for adults. now i am 26 yrs old but i dont see the point in making it secodary if the cops see adults texting we should get pulled over. we are setting an example for the teen drivers so why shouldnt we get pulled over for doing the same??? texting while driving is dangerous and everything else that goes along with it!!

  17. I have encountered several times where I was almost hit by a driver talking on a cell phone while driving. Something has to be done before something serious happens. God forbid I get hit by a driver talking on their cell phone when I have my grandkids in the car.

    Come on people, can’t it wait until you get where you’re going, to talk on your phones. You may be the one to hit and cause a serious accident that could result in a death let alone risking your own safety and possibly take your own life. It must not be that important to you as it is still going on. Someone do something about this problem.

    You did something about seatbelt use when this is just as bad if not worse as not wearing your seatbelts. What will it take before something bad happens to fix the problem!!!!!!!!

  18. I thought that u had to be speeding in able to receive a ticket for texting however tonight I was not speeding and still got pulled over. I was pissed yeah he gave me a ticket but my phone shows proof I never text on my way home.

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