One Month In, Low Number of Texting While Driving Tickets Issued

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  By now, most people know the dangers of texting and driving, so police officers across the state were happy when the law making it illegal to text behind the wheel went into effect at the beginning of July.

It has now been a month since the law was put in place, so how has it been going so far? 

“The early signs that we are seeing are all very positive,” said Pat Hoye of the Governor’s Traffic and Safety Bureau. 

Hoye goes on to say that while the sample size is tiny, he is encouraged about the decline in traffic deaths and accidents around the state since July 1st. 

Many Iowans can agree that safe roads are a good thing, but some wonder if this is coming at drivers' expense if officers are handing out a lot of tickets. Channel 13 contacted several police departments to check on the number of texting and driving tickets that have been issued.

The Iowa State Patrol reports only having issued 100 tickets statewide. In Des Moines, only one was issued in the last month. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office had just three tickets and two warnings. 

Other metro departments shared similar results; Urbandale police issued just eight tickets, Ames police handed out seven combined warnings and citations, and Waukee police reported no tickets and just one warning. 

If you talk to any cop on patrol, that’s what they were expecting. 

“I don’t think we will see numbers that are proportionate to the number of people actually texting and driving,” said Sgt. Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department. 

Sgt. Parizek says there are two major factors in why there has not been a high ticket number. The first is that it's difficult to enforce. 

“We can see you and believe what you are doing is texting while driving, but have to get you to basically admit that to us to write a citation,” said Sgt. Parizek. “There are a lot of honest people who will admit it, but there some that will just say they are using GPS.”

Other police departments, like Urbandale, Waukee, and Ames, agree with Sgt. Parizek. 

“In general, we have found it rather difficult to enforce.  While the public clearly sees other motorists texting while driving all of the time, but most people notice our patrol cars, as we want them to, and stop the behavior,” said Geoff Huff of the Ames Police Department. 

Another reason the number is so low is that when a new law is rolled out, patrol units are told to issue warnings instead of tickets. This is an effective way to alter driving habits. 

“If you can get people to voluntarily comply and put their phones down while driving, that’s the goal, that’s the end goal here. So if they see a police car coming and they drop their phone or put it in their lap and they start paying attention to what they are supposed to be doing, I’d say that’s a success,” said Sgt. Parizek. 

This number will probably not remain low forever; the GTSB expects the number of tickets issued to spike statewide after officers tighten up and stop issuing warnings.