Lawmakers Begin Work on Distracted Driving Bill

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- It’s both dangerous and illegal, but police can't pull you over for texting and driving -- yet.

Lawmakers are working on a bill that would make it a primary offense to text-while-driving is up for debate at the statehouse. If passed officers could write a ticket if they see you texting.

However, a large group of lobbyists who were in Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing say it’s a good first step, but not a big enough one.

“At the end of the day we are hopeful that a hands-free will come out of the legislative session simply because we believe it will impact safety even more,” said Patrick Hoye, Chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.

While lawmakers questioned lobbyists in the rooms, there was a big push to take the bill from a texting bill to one that would make it illegal to be on your phone at all.

A hands-free bill would make it a primary offense to be on your mobile device at all.  Drivers couldn't make phone calls, change the song, or get directions without using a Bluetooth device.

Hoye says that's for the best.

“Over the last five years, 68% of fatalities in the state of Iowa have been lane departure crashes, so we believe, obviously, that a large percentage of those can be attributed to the distracted driver,” said Hoye.

Iowa is coming off the deadliest year in the last five years in terms of fatal accidents, over 400 of them.

Motorists have taken notice of how many people, of all ages, are on their phones while driving.

“I mean how would you feel if you were that individual that harmed or killed somebody, for what? For what? Just because you were trying to figure out what you were having for dinner?” said Nancy Pozgay.

Pozgay says it would be a good idea for Iowa to adopt the bill in one form or another. She is from Illinois, one of the 15 states with a hands-free law. She says while it's not a silver bullet, it does work.

“It's rare nowadays, I think more people are serious about the dangers of texting while driving, and I hope it continues, it's no different than drinking and driving in my book,” said Pozgay.

While there was a large group of supporters in the room, not everyone was on board with the bill.

“From our perspective there is an equally significant issue with respect to the racial disparity amount arrests in Iowa,” said Pete McRobert, Legislative Council for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

The ACLU was the only group to outright oppose the bill.

The civil liberties group says the bill could lead to more arrests of minorities, who are taken into custody at a much higher rate than Caucasians.

“Before we start increasing penalties for everyday offenses, increasing enhancements for other offenses, that first we tackle the vital issue of the racial disparity among arrests,” said McRobert.

State police say that texting while driving would result in a ticket, not an arrest; however, a primary offense could be used as probable cause to search a vehicle.

The bill was approved as a text-only bill and is now being sent to a full-committee hearing.