DES MOINES – Effective Thursday, Iowa drivers and vehicle passengers are operating under new rules of the road.
State transportation, public safety and elected officials put Iowans on notice that new seat-belt violations carrying fines totaling at least $127 are being enforced for passengers aged 14 years and older effective immediately, while warnings will be issued during a one-year transition for drivers caught writing, sending or receiving text messages or young drivers who use cell phones, iPods or other electronic devices while driving.
Eugene Meyer, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the new law changes are not about writing tickets, they are about saving lives.
“The true focus is on changing behavior,” said Meyer, who urged drivers that are among the nearly 2.2 million Iowans with cell phones to make their vehicles “no phone zones” to cut down on distractions that enhance the chances of being involved in an accident by four times. “I believe the overwhelming majority of Iowans will be mindful of the new laws,” he said.
Nancy Richardson, director of the state Department of Transportation, said the new laws are designed to “change the driving culture” by curbing distractions caused by hand-held devices and expanding the number of rear-seat passengers who are buckled up with a seat-belt or restraint in moving vehicles.
Under the expanded seat-belt law approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chet Culver this year, all persons in a motor vehicle under age 18 must use a seat belt, safety harness or child safety restraint system. Law officers plan stepped-up enforcement for the July 4 holiday weekend to make certain all people in the front seat and all children under age 18 in the back seat are properly secured.
Those convicted of violating the seat-belt law face a fine of at least $127.50 while persons convicted of violating the child-restraint devices law face a fine of at least $195 under Iowa’s increased fines and fees schedule. Also, for the first time citations will be issued to persons aged 14 and older who violate Iowa’s seat-belt laws.
While Iowa’s new electronic communication device law prohibits all drivers from texting, law officers will only issue warnings for the next year as part of an educational effort to raise awareness before citations and fines are enforced beginning July 1, 2011. The law also prohibits teen drivers who hold a restricted license (minor school permits, instruction permits, intermediate licenses, or licenses issued to teens working but not attending high school) from using any electronic communication or electronic entertainment device while driving.
Culver said Iowa joins 28 other states in dealing with more than 6,000 “preventable” deaths that take place each year nationally because of distracted driving.
“This is a common-sense law that will save lives,” he said.
“The call to action has been heard,” Culver said. “As a result, more drivers will keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”
To learn more about the provisions of these new safety laws, the associated fines and possible sanctions to a person’s driver’s license, visit www.iowadot.gov/curbitclickit.
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