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IA Senate Advances Hands-Free Cell Phone Bill

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Thursday, March 30, 2023   

The Iowa Senate has advanced a bill to outlaw handling a cellphone while driving.

The state already has a distracted driving law, but it allows people to hold a mobile device as long as they're not texting. Supporters of this measure say current law makes it difficult to pinpoint the cause of many accidents.

Senate File 547 would further target distracted driving, and establish fines for people who handle their mobile devices at all while behind the wheel. It is not the first time Iowa lawmakers have debated a measure like this, but now it is getting more support from state police.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said current law makes it hard for troopers to say exactly what caused a crash, but they often cite distracted driving in many serious accidents.

"Some of the troopers described instances where people are watching movies as they roll down the road," Celsi outlined. "Others are texting. Others are checking Facebook."

Celsi argued the bill would help police enforce the law by completely banning cellphone use while driving unless it is equipped with a hands-free device. The bill moves next to the House, where it faces opposition.

Celsi is a co-sponsor of the bill and was once opposed to regulating cellphone use in the car because she thought it would require people to make big investments in technology to comply. She acknowledged it is no longer the case, and added people can get a hands-free device for as little as $20. Beyond the technology now being affordable, she said bicyclists have also come out in support of the measure.

"Many bicyclists will tell you harrowing tales of driving down the road and seeing a driver that's completely on their phone coming straight towards them and not even realizing that they're there," Celsi observed. "I think the combination of the two -- the law enforcement and the bicycle coalition coming together -- was the driving force that got the bill to pass in the Senate."

If the measure becomes law, Iowa would join 30 other states banning handheld cellphone use while driving.


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