Dubuque authorities say texting and driving law hard to enforce

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DUBUQUE COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The Dubuque Police Department and Sheriff's Office say it's been difficult to enforce Iowa's texting and driving law.

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The law that prohibits texting while driving went into effect July 1, 2017. The law allows for drivers to talk on the phone and use GPS. It's that distinction that officers say makes it difficult for them to enforce the law.

Sheriff Joe Kennedy said, "when you have to look at such a minute thing while driving it’s really difficult for our officers to do that while they’re trying to operate their own vehicles."

To really enforce the law, Kennedy said he would need more resources.

"We would really have to send two people out at the same time," he said. "We don’t really have the man power to do that so we do the best we can with what we have and that’s how we get by."

Kennedy said his office has issued just three citations in the past year.

Dubuque Police Department Lieutenant Joe Messerich agrees it is tough for officers to confirm a driver is texting.

He said, "there’s obstacles we have to overcome to make the stop and issue the citation. Usually it takes a sustained observation period to be able to differentiate between a phone call and an actual text or reading an email."

Just months after the law went into effect, the police department conducted an operation in August and September of 2017 in an attempt to cite texting drivers.

"We've had plainclothes officers in unmarked vehicles that can sit at intersections and just observe the drivers' behaviors, and if they see an obvious texter or somebody that’s doing something that is prohibited then they can call it out to a marked unit to make that stop," Messerich explained.

However, those operations didn't yield many citations. Just two in August and three in September.

Messerich said, "2018 so far we’ve written 26 citations and in 2017 we had 29 citations. The citations are being written, it’s just not a frequent violation we’re able to write."

Both Messerich and Kennedy agree the law is a needed part of stopping distracted driving, but that it's not the only way.

"The law helps, but it’s not the end-all, be-all solution to the problem," Messerich said.

"I think a law is a good start," said Kennedy. "I think education is also probably a key there."