Jan 24, 2024 - News

Iowa advocates continue push for hands-free driving law

Iowa car crashes involving distracted driving with a cell phone or electronic device
Data: Iowa Department of Transportation; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Iowa Bicycle Coalition and Iowa State Patrol are continuing efforts to pass a hands-free driving law they argue would reduce distracted driving and ease enforcement.

Why it matters: Iowa passed a distracted driving law in 2017, intending to curb cell phone use and subsequent crashes.

  • But advocates of safer roads argue a loophole in the law still allows drivers to look at and use their devices with little consequence — just as long as they're not texting.

Driving the news: The Iowa Bicycle Coalition is lobbying House Republicans to try and bring Senate File 547 for a vote in the chamber this year.

By the numbers: 366 people died on Iowa roads last year, the highest number in the last five years. The State Patrol says cell phones are part of the problem

  • 43 pedestrians or cyclists were seriously injured or killed in the Des Moines metro in 2022 — the highest number in 12 years.
  • Crashes involving distracted driving and electronics have increased in the last 20 years, resulting in more than 1,000 accidents statewide in 2022.

Details: Senate File 547, which passed the Senate last year, bans all use of a phone by hand while driving.

  • It increases fines for texting from $45 to $100. Violations resulting in serious injuries rise to $500 and fatalities $1,000, with the possibility of license suspension.

Flashback: A woman cycling in 2020 was killed by a distracted driver and it seemed like an "open-and-shut case" to her family, the Register reported.

  • But because it wasn't clear under the law if the distracted driving was criminal, the driver was acquitted.

Between the lines: Hands-free legislation is popular among the public and the governor — but House Republicans failed to pass it last year citing concerns over drivers' rights and privacy.

  • While SF 457 is still up for consideration this year, Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) has proposed similar legislation that also bans traffic cameras.

What they're saying: 34 other states have passed hands-free legislation, Luke Hoffman, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, tells Axios.

  • "This is the most common sense law," Hoffman says.

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