Capital Clicks

Senate takes aim at distracted driving with new definition, increased penalties

By: - February 10, 2021 12:23 pm

The Senate passed a bill aimed at penalizing companies that censor certain online content.(Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

Iowans already can’t legally text and drive, but a bill moving through the Senate could also make some on-the-go phone calls illegal.

Senate File 46 would expand Iowa law to forbid any use of an electronic communication device while driving that would take hands off the wheel. Beyond just texting, the proposed bill would include things like holding a phone to your ear to make a call. 

Hands-free communication and navigation would remain legal.

“The civil libertarian part in me doesn’t like this bill,” said Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa. “The grandfather in me likes this bill.”

There are several exceptions to the rules: Emergency personnel would still be allowed to use electronic devices to communicate, as would licensed amateur radio users. Reading safety-related information, like a severe weather alert, is also allowed.

The state would charge violators of the law more than twice the current fine: $100, compared to the current penalty of $45. Using a handheld device while driving would also become a moving violation, which could lead to suspension of a license.

The Senate Transportation Committee moved Senate File 46 Wednesday. It is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate.

The Transportation Committee also moved a related bill, Senate File 98, which would require driver’s education programs to include the dangers of distracted driving in the curriculum. The House unanimously passed a companion version of that bill, House File 380, on Wednesday night.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.