Many motorists are guilty of texting while driving, but the habit could come at an additional cost to Iowans. An expensive expansion of the state’s ban on texting while behind the wheel went into effect in July.
The previous version of the law only allowed officers to ticket for the infraction if the driver had also committed another offense, such as running a red light or speeding. Now, the state considers texting and driving a “primary offense,” meaning officers may issue a citation when they observe the behavior alone.
“It is not a mandatory citation,” explained Sgt. Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department. “It is discretionary. But if it is a contributing factor to an accident, I think you will see a lot of citations written.”
However, drivers may ultimately decide whether to turn their phone over for examination during a traffic stop.
“It's up to the driver to produce that phone or not. In the situation of an accident there are certain situations where the phone and the phone records can be subpoenaed,” said Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Darrin Snedden.
The update also prohibits drivers from browsing the web or checking social media or other apps while driving. Iowans will still be able to make and receive phone calls and utilize their GPS.
There are deadly consequences for texting while driving, studies have shown. In tandem with other new legislation, Iowa’s ban on texting means a driver causing the death of another person while using a phone can face reckless driving charges carrying up to 10 years in prison.
The monetary penalty isn’t cheap, either.
“The total fine an offender would pay is $100.50," said legal analyst Michael Guanci of the State of Iowa's Legislative Services Agency. The breakdown of the total cost is $30 for the fine, a $10.50 surcharge fee, and $60 in court costs—which offenders will still have to pay even if they don’t appear in court. Texting while driving is considered a moving violation and will be recorded on the offender’s driving record, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Iowa is one of 47 U.S. states with a ban on texting while driving, and 14 states prohibit any handheld cell phone use by drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.