Lawmakers Work to Promote Safe Driving as Traffic Deaths Increase

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  So far in 2017 there have already been seven fatalities on Iowa roads.

This continues the trend from 2016, which was the deadliest year for motorists in the past five years, which has caused lawmakers to take notice.

"Traffic deaths were 315 in 2015, but jumped to 402 in 2016. That is unacceptable," said Governor Terry Branstad.

The governor called on lawmakers, as well as the Governor's Safety Bureau, to create solutions after a year that saw an increase of over 80 fatalities on Iowa's roads.

"If you love Jesus, honk, but if you want to meet Jesus, text," said Representative Curt Hanson. He is one of the lawmakers trying to make an impact, and has filed a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

"This will allow an officer to stop a motorist for texting," said Handon. "Right now, the motorist has to be exhibiting some other behavior. Crossing the center line and hitting a car head-on or something would be other behavior that I'm trying to prevent."

Representative Hanson says there was too much political push-back to make texting a primary offense in a 2010 bill, but he hopes 2017 will prove to be different.

"This is a problem that has gone mainstream with our driving public. When we first crafted this bill, the cell phones and the smartphones were just coming out and some people were of the opinion that this is just a youth phenomena it's never going to affect the mainstream motorist," he said.

Meanwhile the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau say getting more Iowans to wear seatbelts is a high priority. Forty percent of 2016's fatalities involved motorists who weren't wearing one, despite the state reporting 94% seatbelt compliance.

"When you take a look at 94% of us our wearing our belts and 6% aren't, but that 6% account for almost half the fatalities in the state, so if you ever needed a banner for seat belt use and does it really work, obviously it certainly does," said Patrick Hoye, Chief of the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.

Iowa's increase in traffic deaths is part of a national spike, which saw a 10% increase from last year. Hoye says low gas prices can partially contribute to that statistic.

"The one downside I guess of lower gas prices that we've seen is that miles driven have gone up across the country and here in the state of Iowa, and as more people are driving obviously, crashes do go up," said Hoye.

He says another troubling trend has been an increase in motorcycle deaths, 60 of them in 2016, which is an increase from 41 in 2015.

Hoye says the Traffic Safety Bureau will also be looking at ways to make it safer for those who ride motorcycles and bicycles.