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Talking while driving is a hazard to everyone on the road

Rep. Meyer’s bill to end the threat should become law

It’s an all too common sight on Iowa roads: a driver with a phone pressed to their ear, chatting away while their vehicle weaves in and out of its lane.

Such action could be the beginning of a crash and, in a worst case scenario, a tragedy.

Just how bad is the problem? In 2018, the last full year for which statistics are available, the Iowa Department of Transportation recorded 1,090 crashes caused by drivers who were distracted by a phone or other electronic device. Those crashes caused nine deaths and 524 injuries.

Legislation proposed by state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, is intended to put a stop to talking on a handheld phone while driving or using any other electronic device while behind the wheel unless it is in a hands-free or voice activated mode.

Meyer told The Messenger that she believes the threat posed by talking on the phone while driving is so obvious that there shouldn’t even have to be a discussion about it. We agree. We think her bill should become law.

Her proposal would make using an electronic device that’s not in voice activated or hands-free mode a primary offense. That means if a law enforcement officer saw a driver going down the road with a phone in their hand they could pull over the vehicle for that reason alone.

Meyer’s bill calls for a $100 fine for violations. A version of the bill in the state Senate includes a $30 fine. We believe the lawmakers should approve the heftier fine.

Although Meyer’s proposal would go into effect July 1 if it’s signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, the fine would not go into effect until January 2021. That should give people plenty of time to get used to the new law.

We realize that drivers who are on a hands-free or voice activated phone can become so distracted that they could end up crashing. But we believe people looking at their phones, driving with just one hand on the steering wheel, or worse neither hand on the wheel, is a far greater hazard. Meyer’s bill would address that hazard, so it should become the law of Iowa.

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