Teen and adult text-a-holics beware: texting while driving is illegal beginning today.
However, avid texters will have a year grace period before the $30 fines are instituted, according to Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, who wrote the bill, which became law today.
The law bars anyone under 18 from using electronic devices while operating a vehicle, including cell phones and iPods, unless the device is installed in the vehicle or operated through permanently installed equipment.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A number of new laws take effect in Iowa today, including a ban on drivers under 18 using cell phones while driving and, for all drivers, a ban on texting. To stay legal, a driver would have to pull over to type and send his message. The law does not apply to passengers.
Adults are banned from receiving or sending texts, but may still talk on their cell phones.
Tjepkes said the law is tougher on youths to instill good driving habits.
"The electronic device came about through an amendment," he said. "At the age of 16, 17 or 18, kids are still in the learning stage. So the law bans the total use of cell phones and electronic devices while they drive."
In addition to new laws, fines for traffic violations are also increasing today. These fines are from the 2009 and 2010 Iowa State Patrol violation compendiums.
Speeding violation - $87-$195 from $73.50-$181.50.
Failure to obey stop sign - $195 from $107.25.
Seat belt violation - $127.50 from $93.75.
Failure to secure a child - $195 from $93.50.
The law is intended to improve public safety on the road primarily through education, Tjepkes said, which is why warning citations will be issued until July 1, 2011.
Law enforcement can't pull someone over merely because they believe a driver is texting, he added.
"It's what we call a secondary violation," Tjepkes said. "If you're speeding or run a stop sign or violate another law, they can pull you over for that purpose, and in the course of that stop, if they can prove texting was the reason you violated the law, then they can issue you a citation."
Proving a person was in the process of texting seems to be a difficult task, but Tjepkes said the National Highway Safety Council is holding different seminars with law enforcement officials on how to pick up and detect suspected texting.
Capt. Roger Porter with the Fort Dodge Police Department said officers will "just have to be more observant when watching traffic."
"I've witnessed people texting while driving when on routine patrol," Porter said. "It is possible to see people doing it. If they're involved in an accident, we'll have to rely on witness testimony."
Porter said he's sure more training will be offered to officers.
There is an exception in the law for emergency workers who may read text messages sent to their phones while operating a vehicle.
"Be it police officers, firefighters or medical personnel, they receive notice these days by virtue of a text message to respond the operating room or fire station," Tjepkes said.
Cracking down on texting isn't the only law going into effect today.
There are eight other new laws, including a seat belt law that requires children 18 and younger to be buckled up in the backseat, unless all seat belts are in use.
But instead of the driver being issued a citation if a passenger fails to buckle up, the youngster, if 14 or older, will get the ticket.
Tjepkes introduced this amendment.
"As it is now, the officer has the discretion to cite the driver or the individual not wearing the seat belt," he said. "If you have a 16-year-old driver who has an 18-year-old passenger in the backseat, it puts that younger driver in a precarious situation asking someone older to put on their seat belt so he or she doesn't get a ticket. We felt like that was something that needed to be addressed."
Legislators also addressed grain weight limits for farmers, passing a bill that allows commercial motor vehicles to haul up to 90,000 pounds on six axles and 96,000 pounds on seven axels on non-interstate highways. There is already a law that allows these weights for livestock and construction vehicles.
Other bills that become law today include:
Military spouse benefits: This allows an individual to receive unemployment benefits upon leaving a job to relocate with his or her spouse due to a military assignment to another area.
Domestic abuse, forfeiture of guns: If a person is convicted of domestic abuse, or is the subject of a permanent protective order, the person will lose the ability to own guns.
Health insurance and cancer trials: This law makes it easier for cancer patients to participate in these clinical trials and retain their health insurance coverage of routine care.
Mental health hospitalization notification, also known as the Ed Thomas Bill: This assures that hospitals notify law enforcement when individuals hospitalized for serious mental impairment are released if the patient has an arrest warrant or pending charges.
Smart growth and comprehensive planning: This establishes a set of 10 comprehensive planning principles that state and local governments should use in preparing for future growth, however, these principals are guides, not mandates.
Support for small businesses: This focuses on small business job creation by increasing the Research Activities Credit available for small businesses.
Contact Lindsey Mutchler at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org