DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa House voted Tuesday to ban texting while driving with supporters conceding it was a small step toward dealing with the problem of distracted drivers.
The House approved the measure on a 64-31 vote, sending it to the Senate for further debate.
“I hope that in the future we strengthen this,” said Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines. “I believe this bill is going to pass and we’re taking some steps.”
The measure also prohibits instant messaging and e-mailing while driving. But it was the popular practice of text messaging that got lawmakers’ attention.
“While there are many distractions for drivers, writing and sending text messages is deemed as the most dangerous,” said Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, a retired Highway Patrol trooper.
Abdul-Samad said half the drivers age 18 to 24 send text messages while they drive, with some sending up to 3,000 text messages a month.
Before approving the measure, the House rejected attempts both to narrow and to expand the restrictions.
Rep. Chris Rants, R-Sioux City, argued the measure should only apply to drivers who are under 18, saying young people are the most prolific at texting.
“You start by ensuring the safety of our young people,” Rants said. “My activities as I go down the road are determined by me. I’m an adult and I don’t need a paternalistic state telling me what to do.”
On the other end of the scale, Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, sought to expand the restriction to include other activities done on a hand-held device, such as going online and downloading music.
“All of those things are distractions,” Raecker said.
Meeting with reporters, Culver urged lawmakers to go beyond the initial version.
Culver warned the limited measure debated in the House could cost the state millions of dollars in federal highway safety funding.
“We have potentially millions of dollars at stake from the highway safety department,” Culver said. “We need to be in compliance with their guidelines.”
The measure would go into effect July 1.
For the first year no tickets would be issued, only warnings. After that, motorists caught texting while driving would face a $30 fine. The measure does toughen penalties if texting leads to an accident causing serious injury or death. The fines would be $500 and $1,000 respectively, and a driver’s license could be suspended.
The measure bans texting while a vehicle is moving, but would allow a driver to pull over and send a text message.
It also bans local governments from enacting bans more strict than state law. The measure does not ban using a cell phone while driving, or the use of global positioning or navigation systems.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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