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Feds to Iowa: Cite Truckers for Cellphone Use or Lose Highway Funds

Tim Whelan/flickr

Truck drivers, bus drivers, and other operators of commercial vehicles could be more likely to lose their licenses for texting while driving, under legislation the Iowa Department of Transportation will ask state lawmakers to approve this year.  

Operators of commercial vehicles in Iowa are already pulled over and fined for texting or operating a handheld mobile phone, but it’s a general citation for violating federal rules.   

Iowa law does not spell out a specific cellphone citation for operators of commercial vehicles.   

We're trying to make sure safe drivers are on the road. -DOT Dir. Mark Lowe

That makes the state out of compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The FMSCA wants the change in order to more consistently penalize offenders, and the DOT will ask the legislature to comply.

“We recommend separately adopting these violations under a new, distinct code section that can be specifically cited, which will allow them to be properly and specifically identified and tracked on the driver’s record,”   the DOT wrote in a policy proposal prepared for the legislature.

If a driver is specifically cited for cellphone violations, that can be counted with other serious violations and lead to a license revocation.

“You can track that and say yes that was for texting while driving a commercial vehicle or that was for using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial motor vehicles,” said DOT Director Mark Lowe, “and that would be properly assigned to determine whether their license should be disqualified.” 

Lowe says if the FMSCA issues a formal finding of noncompliance, the state could lose as much as $35 million in federal highway funds.   

“This won’t result in new restrictions on commercial operators but will only ensure proper record keeping under restrictions that already exist and are being enforced,” the DOT wrote.

“We’re trying to make sure safe drivers are on the road,” Lowe said.