Until now, law enforcement in Iowa couldn't stop a driver only for observing them using their cell phone. That could be changing soon.

A "texting bill" was passed in the State Senate this week. If approved by the House, and signed into law by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, it would allow officers to stop drivers who are seen checking social media, using the internet, texting, or even playing games on a mobile device.

There's also a total "hands-free" bill being considered in the Iowa House, according to WHO. Whichever bill ends up moving to the governor's desk, I think it's good news. The number of people I see on the road with a device in hand is downright scary. I still remember riding with a co-worker from New York a couple years ago, shortly after she'd moved to Iowa. I pulled out my phone to make a call and she was astounded that it was legal.

Here's the law from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles:

Under New York State law you cannot use a hand-held mobile telephone or portable electronic device while you drive. Illegal activity includes holding a portable electronic device and

  • talking on a handheld mobile telephone
  • composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving electronic data such as e-mail, text messages, or web pages
  • viewing, taking, or transmitting images
  • playing games

Here's the current Iowa law, from Driving Laws:

Cell Phone Use

There is no handheld cell phone prohibition for drivers except that novice drivers in Iowa - drivers with a learner's permit or intermediate license holders – are prohibited from using cell phones (handheld or hands-free) while driving.

Texting Laws

The law prohibits texting or emailing while driving -- that means no writing of outgoing text messages and no reading of incoming. (It has no effect on the ability to make or receive phone calls.) The law states: "A person shall not use a hand-held electronic communication device to write, send, or read a text message while driving a motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is at a complete stop off the traveled portion of the roadway." Typical exceptions exist for hands free devices and GPS systems, as well as allowing drivers to receive "safety-related information including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts."

It obviously doesn't mention you currently can't be stopped if you're seen texting if there's no other reason for a traffic stop.

I thought it seemed crazy two years ago when the New York transplant was amazed we could use our phone(s) to make a call when driving. However, I now realize New York had this one right a long time ago. If Iowa authorities are to enforce a law against texting, web surfing, or playing games, we've got to get the phones out of driver's hands. Let's avoid what would be a guessing game for them and increase safety for all of us. It's time.