Iowa coalition wants 'hands-free' bill for safer driving

The Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, along with a coalition of other public safety agencies, insurance and wireless partners, is working on a bill seeking to prevent any distractions for drivers and make travel safer.

Linn County Sheriff’s Maj. John Godar, as immediate past president of the association, said the coalition is proposing a “Hands-Free Communication” bill that “takes phones completely out of the hands of drivers,” not only for texting but for talking, accessing GPS, playing music or a game, or looking up contacts.

Q. Hasn’t law enforcement has been in favor of making texting a primary offense over the last few years?

A: While it’s true there has been some discussion about making texting while driving a primary offense, the association and other public safety agencies had serious concerns about probable cause and how could the law as it’s currently written be enforced.

Q: What is the current law?

A: The current law only bans texting. Legal activities under the current law include selecting music tracks, looking up contacts, typing in addresses and even playing video games like Pokémon Go. How would an officer or deputy know what the driver is using unless we come up to the car and caught them? Or the driver admits it. Minnesota has a similar law and they have issues enforcing it.

Q: What would the coalition’s proposed bill entail?LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING?

A: Our bill is simple — if the driver has the phone in their hand, it’s a violation. This bill would make it a primary offense to use phones while driving, period. The exception would be using the hands-free mode or voice activated mode. I think people would appreciate that we want an enforceable bill. We’re not trying to find a way to write as many tickets as we can. We feel that this helps public safety as it removes the “hands and eyes” distraction of the phone while still allowing the compromise of being able to make/receive calls and texts while driving.

Q: Any indication how this proposed bill will do this year? You mentioned in the past, legislators had been “cool” to making texting a primary offense.

A: We did an unofficial poll at the state fair last year as people walked by our booth and we discussed the issue of distracted driving with them. We had 793 signatures in favor of the hands-free bill. We were impressed with how many people were really concerned about the issue and wanted to see something done. An overwhelming majority was for a hands-free solution, a few were opposed and very few were undecided. On Wednesday, a senate subcommittee met in Des Moines to discuss changing the current bill and recognized the concerns of distracted driving. ISSDA is encouraged that they see the need for a hands-free communications while driving bill and that they are receptive to working toward that goal.

Crashes in Iowa involving known distracted driving have increased:

2010: 659 crashes, 288 injuries, four fatalities

2015: 1,100 crashes, 601 injuries, 14 fatalities.

Source: Iowa Department of Transportation


Linn County sheriff’s Maj. John Godar answers emails in his office in Cedar Rapids last Wednesday. The Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, along with public safety, insurance and wireless partner,s has proposed a bill to replace the texting and driving current law to ban all phone use. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)