Texting while driving tickets soar in Iowa because of stricter law


The Iowa State Patrol has issued six times more citations for texting while driving in the past year than the previous year since a new law has allowed law enforcement officers to stop drivers who are texting.

From July 1, 2017 to the end of June 2018, troopers issued 1,131 citations for texting while driving, which is up from 182 citations between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. Every day an average of nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured because of a distracted driver, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Sergeant Nathan Ludwig of the Iowa State Patrol says this is largely the result of a new, stricter. texting while driving law that took effect in July 2017. The changes made texting while driving a "primary" offense, meaning an officer could pull you over for using your phone. Prior to the changes, it was a secondary Before it was a secondary offense, which meant officers could only issue a drivers a citation if the officer stopped the driver for some other reason, like running a red light, for example.

Ludwig says the previous secondary offense provision made it difficult to catch people texting while driving.

“I think since the primary violation law went into effect, we just have our heads on a swivel a lot more and we see a lot more people doing it," Ludwig said.

But even though officers are pulling more people over, Ludwig says it can still be a tough call deciding when someone’s breaking the law because it’s legal to make calls and use your phone as a GPS.

“It's legal for someone to scroll through their phone to find a number but that’s no different to me than scrolling through Facebook looking for a specific page. If you’re so focused and concentrating on what’s on your phone, having a hands free bill is going to be a lot better," Ludwig said, adding that he and many others in law enforcement are in favor of the legislature passing a hands-free measure in the coming years.

Several states already have hands-free laws, barring the use of any handheld device while driving.

The Iowa legislature expanded the state's “Move Over" law this year in an effort to boost traffic safety. Another new law that took effect July 1 of this year also requires all OWI offenders to have ignition interlock devices in their cars.

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