Iowa’s Texting-While-Driving Law Fails, Data Shows

Posted at: 06/09/2014 5:44 PM
Updated at: 06/09/2014 6:58 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Iowa's texting and driving law has been on the books since 2011, but now new data suggests it's one of the least effective in the country.

Under Iowa law, texting while driving is prohibited, but is only considered a secondary offense.

"What it means is that if [officers] observe this type of violation, the texting while driving, they don't have the authority to stop that person solely for that violation,” said Mitchell County Sheriff Greg Beaver.

That means law enforcement need a second infraction like speeding or a seatbelt violation to make a stop.

That distinction has led to low enforcement, with an investigation by IowaWatch.org showing counties issued an average of only 2.5 citations last year.

But in Mitchell County, they haven't issued a single one since the law was enacted.

"We have not issued any,” Sheriff Beaver said. “[It’s] very difficult, but we have covered the crashes that we've determined that the cell phone caused the crash."

Sheriff Beaver said without the power to stop drivers on sight or seize phones to verify they were texting, officers have an extremely hard time enforcing the law.

That lapse between the intent and execution of the law has many saying the legislature needs to revisit the issue, calling for more restrictions on drivers and more flexibility for law enforcement.

"There are many types of distracted driving, but in this case, we should be able to have a positive impact on our crash numbers is we could make it a primary offense,” Sheriff Beaver said.

The issue did come up during this year's legislative session, but no action was taken.

People in Iowa under the age of 18 are not allowed to use their phones at all while driving.