MOVILLE, Iowa | Owen Hubert, 16, is nearly finished taking his Drivers Education course. Hubert said he sees people on the highway passing while reading or texting on mobile devices, and he's been in cars where drivers have looked at devices too.
"I think that it is a big problem for some Iowans," the Woodbury Central High School student said.
Hubert, of Moville, has heard about the safety dangers of texting and driving, but he wasn't aware a toughened law takes effect Saturday in Iowa. Law enforcement personnel can pull over people they see using mobile phones in certain ways while driving.
It is the latest step in the legislative process of addressing the scourge of distracted driving -- as in texting or gaming or checking social media notifications on mobile devices while driving -- in order to keep roads as safe as possible. States have a variety of laws on use of technological devices in cars, and Iowa's original texting and driving law came seven years ago.
In Iowa, drivers over age 18 still will be able to use hand-held devices to make phone calls or check GPS directions. But now adults can be pulled over by police and face a $100 fine for using devices to write, send or view an electronic message. The rules for those under age 18 haven't changed, those teens can't even use a mobile device for calls or anything else while driving.
The law also makes these activities a primary offense, meaning law enforcement will be able to make a traffic stop solely for a texting-while-driving violation. Previously, it was a secondary offense, meaning motorists were ticketed only if they also were stopped for another traffic violation.
In signing the bill in April, then-Gov. Terry Branstad said he was disappointed the Legislature did not adopt an outright ban on using hand-held devices while driving. During the legislative debate, proponents called it a bad idea to take your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel while driving, but applauded the incremental progress after Iowa’s traffic deaths rose from a five-year low of 317 in 2013 to 403 in 2016.
Iowa State Patrol Trooper Vince Kurtz said distracted drivers who cause a crash resulting in serious injury now may be charged with a felony.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that roughly 11 people are killed daily and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes reported to include a distracted driver.
As with any legislation designed to curb certain actions by people, the intent is that drivers will stop viewing electronic messages and, if they don't, perhaps receiving a ticket will change habits.
"The law is not there for punishment, it is there for safety," Iowa State Patrol Trooper John Farley said. "It is all part of the bigger process, not only enforcement but the education, getting that message out on the dangers of texting and driving."
He added, "Hopefully people will decide, 'I am not going to be part of the problem.' "
Hubert would like to think he won't text and drive once he gets a license. He said he worries that when he's an adult driver some patrol personnel will see him pulling up contacts to make a phone call or GPS, and think he is breaking the law.
Farley said troopers see people using phones in some ways, for calls or texting, roughly 50 percent of the time. He teaches defensive driving classes and asked people how often they believe others on the roads beside them use devices while driving. Farley said the response is consistently 70 to 80 percent, adding, "The texting has become so commonplace" while driving.
Some people don't choose to turn off their devices while driving, so notifications or messages beep in. Farley said those motorists should consider putting their mobile devices in specially designed slips or sleeves.
The Iowa State Patrol and AAA in late June through media outlets such as the Journal handed out slips to motorists. They are lined with materials that prevent signals from going into the phone with messages and the like, essentially silencing it. Once out of the slip, signals resume to the device.
Farley said the slips are a fine piece to help diminish texting while driving.
Said Farley, "They are that physical barrier to stop you from the temptation of that phone, a reminder that, 'while I am in my vehicle, I should not use a device.' "
While those free slips are gone, people can buy them for $15 from the cellslip.com website.
Lacy March, of Sioux City, said she especially notices drivers looking at mobile devices when at stop lights, using those few seconds to catch up.
"It is the era we live in. People want to do five things at once," March said.
She followed the legislative process that resulted in the new law, which Lacy supports.
"It will be good. I hope it makes people more responsible, more accountable," she said.