State Sen. Tim Kapucian, the chairman of the Senate Transportation committee, spent some time talking with The Iowa Standard on Tuesday about some bills in Transportation that have garnered a lot of attention from readers.
One of those pieces of legislation is a bill that addresses vehicles driving in the left-most lane. Kapucian said it can be a safety issue.
“Let’s face it, not everybody drives the same speed,” he said. “Some people speed a little bit, some people don’t drive fast enough. Then people get agitated and people get upset. You end up with some accidents. That left lane is really supposed to be for the faster traffic to get around the slower traffic. I think we’ve lost sight of some of that.”
The bill provides a $100 fine for cars that do not move to the right lane when another vehicle is overtaking them in the left-most lane.
“This will be a reminder in a pretty substantial way, with the first offense being $100,” Kapucian said.
He was quick to add that each situation will be left to officer discretion.
“I think most are pretty reasonable if you have a good excuse,” he said. “But I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people just stay in that left lane. That is not what that lane is designed for.”
Kapucian has heard from people who want to be able to control traffic.
“I’m sorry, it’s not your job to control the traffic,” he said. “That’s law enforcement’s job. When you try to do that, that’s when you get people who become agitated and accidents happen.”
Ultimately, a bill like this sends a message.
“Part of bills like this is messaging as well,” he said. “We want to get that message out to the general public, that hey, this is how you’re supposed to be doing this here and we want you to really pay attention.”
It comes down to an issue of safety for Kapucian.
“I would say, how do you put a value on a life,” he said in terms of addressing those who oppose the bill. “Some of these accidents can cause fatalities, serious injury. We all have to be working on the same rules of the road. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t all need a refresher course from driver’s education.
“I can’t tell you the last time I saw a vehicle come to a complete stop at a stop sign, or what percentage of vehicles don’t use blinkers. There are a lot of things that could help make it safer on the roads. And, of course, texting and driving or hands-free. That’s a big one this year.”
That bill has proponents in both parties as well.
“This bill came out of committee relatively easy,” he said. “There was a good consensus on both sides of the aisle.”
Kapucian said it is a daily problem.
“I see it every day here in Des Moines multiple times,” he said. “Pull up to a stoplight, three-lane, look on both sides and see people on their cell phones. You can take off when the light turns green and they’re still sitting there. Or meet vehicles that cross the centerline or swerve.
“Quite often you hear of an accident that really doesn’t make sense. I’d venture to guess nine times out of 10 it’s because of a distracted driving type of situation. Until we get a handle on this, we’re going to have a hard time getting our death count down on the highways.”
Detractors of the bill have wondered how far the government is going to go.
“Some people talk about their liberties and I like to remind them that, first of all, driving is not a right, it’s a privilege,” Kapucian said. “When you take your right and infringe on mine, you can’t do that. You can only go so far. I think when you’re out there texting and driving, you’re putting my life in danger.”
He understands the opposition but said the legislature exists to decide how far the legislature is going to go.
“That’s why we have legislators to pick and choose which types of things are the most imminent danger,” he said. “The ones that maybe we could do the best with. I don’t see stopping people from drinking coffee or driving while eating a hot dog or something like that. But texting, where you take your eyes off the road on a continual basis, that’s definitely creating a distraction that can lead to accidents.”
Kapucian said he just has a different perspective than some.
“When I grew up, there were no cell phones,” he said. “If you needed to call somebody, you pulled off and found a payphone. If you have some business that is that urgent, you can always pull off and get off the travel portion of the road before you make that call or text or email.”
One bill that Kapucian doesn’t see advancing is a bill that would’ve required drivers to change lanes and slow down to at least 20 miles under the posted limit when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with flashers on.
“We thought that could be dangerous in itself,” Kapucian said. “It’ll face some opposition just because if you can get over in that other lane, that’s great. But to put and slow down, to put a definite miles per hour amount, that can get tough for some vehicles, especially if they’re popping over a hill and there’s a vehicle. You can slow down, but 20 miles per hour can be a challenge.”
He also expressed concern for semis to slow down that quickly.
“We realize sometimes exceptions have to be made and you can’t have a strict, solid rule on something like that,” he said.
Kapucian added he doesn’t believe any of the Transportation bills to be “controversial.”
“We’ve run seven bills out of committee already and we’re not slowing down,” he said. “We’re going to keep running them. Then they’re eligible for floor debate and we’ll get our work done.”