Chronicle Editorial

 

House misses opportunity to make Iowa roads safer

 

     Tap, tap, tap…glance!

     Tap, tap, tap…glance!

     Whether we’d like to admit it or not, we’ve all texted while driving. It’s one of those societal taboos that’s unfortunately broken far too often on our city streets and rural highways. Sometimes, it feels like a completely winless battle. Cell phones and other wireless devices have evolved so rapidly during the past 15 years that texting is now only a small segment on a long list of roadway distractions: We can check our emails, update social media, and even read the news all while buzzing along with the cruise control set.

     It’s a huge problem, but that didn’t stop the Iowa Legislature from attempting to tackle the issue head-on. Last week the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill 41-7 that would have allowed police officers to pull over drivers caught texting or doing other activities on their phones. The proposed law carried a $30 fine, and had sharper teeth than Iowa’s current rules. An officer can only issue a ticket to a texting driver if someone is caught committing a primary infraction like blowing a stop light or speeding first. Unfortunately, the House didn’t pick up the bill before the March 14 funnel deadline, consequently killing it without discussion.

     The bill was rife with bipartisan support, but there was still a strong minority opposition. A handful of Republican Senators admonished the law because they believed it was yet another example of the government trying to save people from their own stupidity. Though brash, their point is well-taken. People tend to have an extremely short-sighted view on how their actions affect those around them. Over-legislating by creating futile laws against mankind’s idiocy is, itself, idiodic. Even so, it appears this bill passed the idiot test and provided some potential to help reduce our behind-the-wheel cell phone addiction.

     The statistics are certainly alarming. According to textinganddrivingsafety.com, 23 percent of auto collisions nationwide involved a cell phone in 2011. Texting while driving takes your eyes off the road for a considerable amount of time – 5 seconds on average. That timeframe is equivalent to traveling the length of entire football field if you're driving 55 mph. Simply put, you can't react to vehicles around you if you're not even looking at the road. We can't always be 100 percent focused, but it's entirely stupid to add to our many distractions by staring at our phone screen completely oblivious to everything around us.

     The Senate's bill was a worthwhile attempt at penalizing texting drivers, but it could go further if legislators pick it up in the future. Bringing the fine up to $75 would make a stronger statement and really sting motorists for committing a completely avoidable violation. Many states have upped penalties for texting drivers to combat this terrible trend, and it's time Iowa joins them. We're continuously indoctrinated by rhetoric via television, radio and even billboards warning us about the dangers of texting while driving. Everyone knows it's bad, but many still do it. Creating a stiffer penalty to make people think twice seems like the only plausible step to take.

     It’s extremely unfortunate the House failed to pick up this bill. It wouldn’t stop everyone, but a revamped texting law would be a success even if a marginal sum put down their phones and simply just drove. The Senate’s bill might have protected people from their own stupidity, but sometimes that's necessary to shield those using common sense from the actions of the stupid.