Iowa outlaws texting while driving; Kentucky poised to follow

| 4/6/2010

With the federal government trying to quash the practice of reading, writing or typing text messages among truckers, two states soon will start targeting all drivers.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has signed into law a bill that is intended to limit driver distractions. Starting July 1, combining driving with texting will be off-limits for all drivers. The state’s youngest drivers will also be prohibited from talking on their cell phones.

Despite the effort to get tough with driver distractions, adults can’t be pulled over solely for a texting violation. Police officers would have to suspect them of breaking another law. Officers can, however, enforce the cell phone ban as a primary offense for those under 19.

For the first year, offenders will get off with a warning. After that, they will face fines that start at $30.

Iowa becomes the 21st state to outlaw texting while driving. And it is one of 24 states to forbid novice drivers from chatting on cell phones. Kentucky is poised to be added to both lists. Gov. Steve Beshear has committed to signing into law similar legislation approved in the Bluegrass State.

The Kentucky bill would make texting while driving a no-no for everyone and prohibit cell phone use for drivers under 18. The state’s House and Senate have signed off on the restrictions thus clearing the way for the bill – HB415 – to advance to the governor’s desk.

Holders of instructional permits or intermediate licenses found in violation would be forced to keep their license for an additional 180 days.

Anyone found in violation of the rules prior to Jan. 1, 2011, would get off with a warning. After that, violators would face $25 fines. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

Critics question whether rules are needed specifying that texting while driving is against the law. They point out that states already have laws on the books prohibiting careless driving and distracted driving. Others say texting bans are difficult to enforce.

Supporters say there are many laws that are difficult to enforce, but that is no reason to ignore the problem. They also say a ban sends a message to the public that texting is unsafe.

Distracted driving is also getting a lot of attention at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently unveiled a proposal that would elevate texting while driving a truck or bus to its most serious category.

If approved, three violations in a three-year period would result in a 120-day suspension – the same penalty truck drivers face if they’ve been cited in three fatality wrecks during that same time period.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Iowa, click here. To view other legislative activities of interest for Kentucky, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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