Texting while driving citations increase locally, statewide
The number of citations issued by the Iowa State Patrol for texting while driving has increased more than six times statewide since laws changed the practice to a primary offense in July 2017. The increase is even more dramatic locally. The Iowa State Patrol has written almost 12 times as many citations for the offense in the eight-county state patrol district in which Clay County resides.
From July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, the Iowa State Patrol issued a total of 33 citations to citizens who were texting while driving. From July 1, 2017, to date that total has increased to 372 citations. The Spencer Police Department issued a total of four citations for the offense in 2017. To this point in 2018, the number of citations has doubled to total eight citations. The Clay County Sheriff's Department issued a total of five citations in the last 12 months. Last year's Sheriff's Department citation figures were unavailable.
"I would say it is too early to tell if the roads are safer at this point, but there is no doubt that the public is fed up with distracted driving," Iowa State Patrol Public Resource Officer Vince Kurtz said. "Distracted driving, and what is being done about distracted driving, is the number one question I get from groups I talk to. They are fed up with meeting a car on the highway that is over the center line or on the shoulder, then to see the driver's head down in their device as they pass by. People want this issue to change."
Before the change to the law, an officer could not stop a vehicle for texting while driving unless they spotted another violation. Drivers are still allowed to answer calls while driving and operate music programs through their cellphones. A driver is not allowed to text even if they are at a stop sign or light, they must instead pull to the side of the road before sending or receiving a text message.
"Unfortunately in today's day and age, people can't leave their house without their cellphone," Clay County Chief Deputy Sheriff Zach Larsen said. "Something as simple as reading or sending that message can become a major incident such as an accident, but people don't think about that. I hope that someday the fines go up a little bit and it becomes a moving violation to make it even more of a punishment and to keep people from texting and driving."
Using a GPS or navigation device does not constitute a violation of the law. The law makes a distinction between what is legal for minors and adults. While adults are allowed to make and receive calls while driving, minors are not permitted to use their cellphones while driving. Though distracted driving is considered a primary offense, it is classified as a misdemeanor. A conviction generally costs the driver $100.50 in fines and surcharges and it won't add demerit points to the motorist's driving record.
"I would point drivers to 20 years of crash investigations I have done in my career, seeing the pain and heartaches of people involved in traffic crashes," Kurtz said. "Many of these crashes are preventable. It is difficult to explain to a motorist the heartaches of a traffic crash unless they have been involved in one. Until you have been in a crash, you have no idea of the pain that it causes."