Lawmakers to Tackle Distracted Driving

By Brady Smith, Reporter

Traffic travels on Interstate 380 south of Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 18, 2009. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

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By Brady Smith

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - On Wednesday morning, the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau met to discuss the proposals for distracted driving laws currently on the table.

When it comes to encountering distracted drivers, State Trooper Bob Conrad says texting is far from being the only culprit.

"You're doing email, you're texting, doing Facebook, you're doing Instagram; there's lots of other things you do on your phone now besides texting," said Conrad in an interview Wednesday.

He said if the current law against distracted driving were beefed up from a secondary offense to a primary offense, cracking down on it would be easier. As it stands, Conrad needs to have another reason to pull someone over - besides texting - before he can enforce the law.

"You've got to have something else. You've got to have some kind of erratic behavior, driving in and out of their lane," Conrad explained.

That could change soon, however, with the Iowa Department of Public Safety's proposal to make distracted driving offenses more enforceable.

"The data show that primary offenses are much more effective for law enforcement to be able to pull people over when they see those kinds of dangerous driving behaviors," said Dan McGehee, with the University of Iowa Public Policy Center. He's the director of the center's Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research Division.

McGehee has been researching the effects of distractions on drivers for years. He said while things like food and pets can draw your attention away from the road, cell phones do it more often, and for longer amounts of time.

"We don't eat 20 cheeseburgers a day while we drive, but we do use our cell phones quite frequently, and that's really where we see people getting into trouble," McGehee told us.

Another proposal on the table would give law officers more freedom to decide if a driver really is distracted, and ticket them accordingly.

"Having the ability to look at each case and scenario and making the determination based on what we see is probably the best way to enforce the law," said Trooper Conrad.

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