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Iowa Senators Advance Bill To Ban Hand-Held Phone Use While Driving

Madeleine McCormick/IPR

An Iowa Senate panel advanced a proposal Monday to ban almost all cell phone use while driving.

The bill would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving except in hands-free mode, or to push a single button to accept or end a call.

It is currently illegal to text and drive in Iowa. But law enforcement groups say it is basically impossible for them to know what a driver was doing with their phone.

“We appreciate the step that was taken a few years ago to make texting a primary offense,” said Susan Cameron Daemen, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association. “But it really is hard to enforce, and this would make our laws more enforceable and we believe make our roadways safer.”

Distracted driving led to 3,166 deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Under the bill advanced Monday, a driver could be fined $30 for phone use while driving. A similar bill that would fine drivers $100 failed to pass last year, but it’s still in play if lawmakers want to consider that version. Twenty states have a similar law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, said if people would just put down their phones while driving, lawmakers would not have to address the issue.

“I’m a liberty guy, but there has to be a limit when there’s other people’s lives and safety at risk, and distracted driving is an incredible risk to drivers out there.”

No lobbyists or lawmakers spoke in opposition to the bill at Monday's hearing. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter