Cell phones are everywhere.
Thirty years ago, almost nobody had a cell phone. Today, it's hard to find anyone who does not. The advantages this change provides in terms of conducting both personal and work-related business are apparent. For travelers stranded on a deserted roadway far from home and for anyone needing emergency assistance, cell phones may quite literally be lifesavers.
The proliferation of cell phones, however, can also be a safety issue on our roadways. They can be a factor in producing accidents. The problem of drivers being distracted by assorted electronic devices is on the increase. That's especially true since texting became a standard feature of the cell phone world.
According to research reported on the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text message on average results in a driver diverting eyes from the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, a vehicle travels the length of a football field during that time.
The risks of - in effect - driving blind for even such a short time should be obvious to anyone. Most people see this and recognize that texting while driving should not be allowed. That's why according to the U.S. Transportation Department 41 states and the District of Columbia have enacted restrictions.
Here in Iowa, a law sponsored by former state Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, banning texting while driving was enacted in 2010.
Unfortunately, however, the law needs strengthening. It makes this offense only enforceable if law enforcement officers are stopping a vehicle for some violation in addition to texting. Additionally, the fines imposed are minimal.
On Feb. 20, Senate Study Bill 3191 was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee with strong bipartisan support. It makes texting while driving a primary offense. That change allows law enforcement officers to stop a motorist whose only observed offense is texting.
This change is crucial. It deserves the support of all Iowa lawmakers. Additionally, The Messenger urges the inclusion of fines sufficient to make committing this offense financially painful. Drivers who disregard their own safety and the safety of others should be penalized harshly.