DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters Tuesday “it makes sense” to ban the use of hand-held phones and devices while driving, and she expects she and lawmakers “need to probably take a look at that” during the 2020 legislative session.
“That seems like probably the next natural step to take,” said Reynolds, noting the Legislature made texting-while-driving a secondary offense and then upgraded it to a primary offense in an effort to curb distracted driving.
The governor made the comments after signing a proclamation designating this as “end distracted driving week” with law officers and other public safety officials looking on. In 2017, officials reported Iowa had 1,207 crashes and 10 deaths attributed to distracted driving, with texting and talking on cellphones the leading factors, she said.
“I see it all the time. People know it’s wrong, but they still do it,” said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig of the Iowa State Patrol. He said troopers have less often had cause to write the $100 citations from Jan. 1 to Memorial Day — 331 versus 450 for the same period last year — yet all crashes are up, topping 2,100 this year compared with 2,066 for the same roughly five-month period last year.
“Just because we’re not stopping the cars and writing the citations for doing it doesn’t mean people have stopped doing it because crashes have gone up,” said Ludwig. “Get in your car and do the one thing, and that is drive.”
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 18 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving. All are primary enforcement laws — an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held device without any other traffic offense also taking place.
Currently, Iowa and 47 other states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers and all but three have primary enforcement.
Ludwig said it would be easier for law officers to enforce a ban on all hand-held devices while driving but he told reporters “we’ll enforce whatever law is passed.”
“That’s up to the Legislature and I think it may come down the road,” the trooper added, “but you don’t need a law to tell you common sense and we just want people to get the phone out of their hand.”
Reynolds spends most of her time on the road as a passenger, being chauffeured by a state trooper. But she said, from her vantage point of watching other drivers, “the number of people that are on their phones — it’s really scary.”