Distracted driving law to take effect July 1

By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

Starting July 1, drivers will face a new risk if texting while driving: receiving a $30 fine for committing a primary offense.

Police will be able to pull drivers over on suspicion of texting while driving under the new law, one of two cellphone-related bills signed on Monday by Gov. Terry Branstad. It will still be legal to use cellphones for phone calls or GPS uses, but the law allows officers to stop a vehicle on suspicion of distracted driving.

“We see a lot of accidents where people are either talking or texting on their phone,” Charles City Police Chief Hugh Anderson said. “There’s been so many times we pull up at a stop sign and somebody’s texting.”

Under current laws, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement needed another reason to pull a vehicle over. Usually a warning from law enforcement will motivate drivers to stop texting, Anderson said, but officers can also issue a ticket if they find it warranted.

“Even as citizens when you’re not in a squad car, it’s probably daily when you see somebody’s looking in their lap. We get a lot of complaints of peoples’ driving, and we’ll stop them if we have a reason to stop them,” Anderson said.

The law may prove difficult to enforce, he added.

“It’s every easy to see someone run through a stop sign … but not to see somebody texting,” Anderson said.

“I think that it’s a step in the right direction to try to curb traffic fatalities,” he added.

Compared to the state average, Charles City already has a high percentage of seatbelt usage, Anderson said.

“I think that people will probably also realize this is law and start to obey it, try not to text,” Anderson said. “With the proliferation of electronic devices, it’s so easy just to look down at that.”

“Hopefully it’s a good thing, and hopefully we see a reduction.”

The other law signed on Monday determines that a driver who uses a cellphone and causes the death of another person has shown evidence of reckless driving and could face a felony conviction that includes up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The law also establishes a 24/7 sobriety and drug monitoring program for drivers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.