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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 2019, the last full year for which statistics are available, the Iowa Department of Transportation recorded 1,099 crashes caused by drivers who were distracted by a phone or other electronic device. Those crashes caused three deaths and 538 injuries.

Last year, state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, introduced a bill 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. The bill didn’t get very far in the 2020 legislative session which was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meyer reintroduced the bill this year. It was approved unanimously by a subcommitee in the House of Representatives, and could come before the House Transportation Committee this week.

We urge the legislature to pass this potentially life-saving bill and we call on Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign it into law.

Meyer has 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.

Meyer’s bill calls for a $100 fine for violations.

Although the proposal would go into effect July 1 if it’s signed by Reynolds, law enforcement officers could only issue warnings for violations through the end of this year. That should give people plenty of time to get used to the new law. Then starting on Jan. 1, 2022, violators would be fined.

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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