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A bill to ban the use of electronic devices while driving passed an Iowa Senate subcommittee on Wednesday morning. The bill does include exceptions if the phone is in hands-free mode.

Sen. Zach Wahls (D-Coralville) started the meeting with one quick question.

“I just want to make sure that this will allow me to use, so like, my iPhone plugs into my car,” Wahls said.

He asked if that would be good to go under this legislation. He was told it would be.

Cyndi Pederson of Iowa Firefighters Association, Verizon Corporation and Affiliated Companies, and Iowa Fraternal Order of Police spoke in support of the bill.

“Anything we can do to protect people driving,” she said.

Susan Daeman of Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association said the group has been for the legislation for a few years.

“We appreciated the step that was taken to make texting while driving a primary offense,” she said. “This will make that law more enforceable by going hands-free.”

Sandy Conlin, who represents GM, said the company is very supportive of efforts to ban distracted driving.

Mark Wyatt of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition said several bicyclists have been killed by distracted driving in the past several years and they support anything that could reduce that number.

Morgan Miller with AFSCME Iowa Council said the group supports the legislation, but wants to make sure workers are still able to use their devices when parked off the side of the road to conduct their work.

Brian Johnson of US Cellular knows it is a growing issue and generally supports law enforcement’s efforts.

The Iowa Public Transit Association has some concerns with the way the bill is structured. Craig Patterson said some use a table that wouldn’t be covered within the exemptions already in the bill. He suggested a very narrow exemption for bus drivers who often stop in the roadway but access the tablet for updates on traffic but are in the roadway when they do it.

Charlie Wishman with Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO said the intent of the bill is great but he also has concerns with utility workers or someone else within the course of their duties who still has two wheels on the road but needs to access an iPad to do their work.

“We just want to make sure that folks in the course of doing their jobs aren’t going to be penalized for using an electronic device,” he said.

Sen. Mark Lofgren (R-Muscatine) filed the bill. He said he talked with the Quad City bicycle group a couple years ago and said it’s dangerous out there for runners and bicyclists. He said he cares about this issue.

Sen. Waylon Brown (R-St. Ansgar) said there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

Wahls said he supports the bill as well as amendments that were discussed.

“I will say the one concern I do have about some of this in-dash technology is there is a lot of inconsistency from vehicle to vehicle and from the operating system to operating system,” he said. “I would just make sure that, you know, to the manufacturer folks, this is a priority on the software and hardware sides for them.”

Sen. Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City) asked a few questions. The first was how many points one of these violations cost in terms of having someone’s license suspended. It was determined that three violations in one year would result in a suspension of a driver’s license.

“I have a little concern about that,” Carlin said.

He also asked what the bill might do to insurance premiums. He was curious what would happen to someone’s car insurance rates if someone would get a couple of those violations on their record.

While he had questions, Carlin said cell phone use while driving is one of the most substantive causes of auto fatalities in the state.

“So, I’m willing to sign off on it,” he said. “I just wanted to see if I could get some of those questions answered.”

Carlin asked if someone is in a stopped position and touches their phone if it would be a violation of the law. The answer was yes.

It will be important to educate the public on the bill. Law enforcement will not have a “gotcha” mentality, Daemen said.

“In that first six months to a year, it’s going to be about educating people,” she said.

The law will be a primary offense, meaning someone can be pulled over for violating the law.

Even someone holding their phone, talking on speaker, would be violating the law. Cops, though, will have to be able to prove someone made a call or was talking on the phone and cannot search someone’s phone without a warrant.

“Somebody could just say in defense, ‘I just held my phone,'” Carlin said. “These will be fun litigating.”

Author: Jacob Hall