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Eyes on the Road: Dubuque Leads the Way

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DUBUQUE - Lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington D.C. are talking about making it illegal to use cell phones while driving. And as that debate continues, the City of Dubuque didn't want to wait.

It became the first city in Iowa to restrict cell phone use in the driver's seat within city limits. The ban has been in effect for almost a week now, and police have handed out 38 warnings.

As drivers in the area adjust to the rules, police are learning how to catch violators in the act.

Drivers in Dubuque know the dangers they face with a cell phone in hand.

"You don't pay attention, whether it's how fast you're going, or what's going on around you, lights changing, I mean little things like that that you don't notice," said Ashley Ohnesorge, driver.

That's why city leaders put a stop to it.

"This is a case of the law trying to catch up to technology."

City Council Member Dirk Voetburg proposed the ordinance that's cracking down on cell phone usage behind the wheel.

"We can't put everyone in a bubble. We can't make everything safe. But I think those things that we can deal with, we ought to," said Dirk Voetburg, Dubuque City Council.

Police say the ban is a challenge to enforce but worth the trouble.

"I've seen it first hand when I'm out on patrol. Somebody utilizing a cell phone and rear-ending somebody else and we were right there when it happened," said Lt. Scott Baxter, Dubuque Police Dept.

The punishment isn't cheap. Lt. Scott Baxter says the fines represent the seriousness of the offense: $50 if you're caught, $250 if you cause a crash. And there's no excuse to get you out of it.

"Drivers, you cross that bridge and the laws change so they're technically responsible to know those laws and abide by them," said Baxter.

The city posted signs at Dubuque's city limits to warn drivers of the new ban. The City of Davenport is also looking at isolated restrictions.

Six states, including Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and Oklahoma have laws that don't allow cities or counties to enact bans.

There is a bill going through the Iowa legislature that would override Dubuque's ban.

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