CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - During a 3-hour traffic enforcement project Wednesday, Iowa State Patrol handed out 38 citations and 71 warnings for everything from speeding to people not wearing seatbelts.
It was on Highway 151 between Cedar Rapids and Amana, an area that Trooper Bob Conrad says they see a lot of crashes. Conrad says distracted driving plays a role in many crashes and fatalities they see on Iowa roads.
“There’s a lot of distracted driving out there. We deal with it unfortunately all the time,” said Conrad. “Literally I have seen it where both people in the car in the front seats are on their phone.”
However, Conrad says the daily part of enforcement comes with challenges.
“We can stop someone who is driving and texting, but we have to prove it, and they can be on the phone using it to make a phone call and be on the phone for a map,” he said.
In 2017, Iowa’s distracted driving law made it so law enforcement could stop anyone for texting while driving. For those 18 and older, making a call or using GPS or apps are all still legal.
In 2019, The Iowa State Patrol handed out 779 citations for texting while driving. Last year, it rose to 849. Nearly five months into this year, they’re trending lower, at 112, but they expect that number to rise as more people get out and travel.
John Gasper is a researcher at the National Advanced Driving Simulator who has been researching distracted driving and the impacts on teens.
“The key things we found in the study is anything that diverts your attention from the road, particularly tasks that take your eyes of the road tend to be really dangerous,” said Gasper. “I think the overall trend is that the types of distractions were seeing are changing a little bit, so it tends to be less cell phone conversation and more visual distractions.”
That includes texting and and interacting with vehicle interfaces.
“Our research now is focusing on how do we kind of integrate what’s happening in the vehicle with what drivers are doing, so how do we get technology that can support drivers and reduce some of the negative effects of distraction,” Gasper added.
Conrad says it will also take education and laws.
“Obviously a hands-free law could be handy because when you got the phone in your hand, we know you are distracted. People need to understand it doesn’t always happen to someone else,” he said.
A “hands-free bill” is in the legislature this year, but likely won’t pass. The penalty for texting and driving is a minimum 100 dollar fine. A driver who kills someone while texting and driving could face a felony conviction of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to ten thousand dollars.