DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad joined nearly a dozen students Thursday in signing a pledge to never text and drive.
Never mind that the governor confided that he rarely sends text messages on his cell phone – delegating that duty to his press secretary — and that he generally is chauffeured these days by a state trooper.
What’s important is that the Iowans who gathered in the governor’s formal office to proclaim Thursday as “No Text on Board Pledge Day” made the point that texting while driving is a dangerous distraction that puts the texter, other drivers, passengers and pedestrians at deadly risk.
“I think it’s too dangerous. People should not text while they’re driving and we’ve had some tragic accidents caused by it,” the governor said.
Beth Canuteson, a regional AT&T vice president, joined the governor and students from Des Moines Area Community College’s urban campus as part of the company’s multimillion-dollar “It Can Wait” public awareness campaign to drive home the point that “no text is worth dying for.”
“A text can wait. This message can’t,” said Canuteson. “In the United States, someone is killed or injured once every five minutes on average in a crash that happens while a driver is texting and driving.”
Iowa is one of 39 states that bars most drivers from writing, sending or reading text or e-mail messages while operating a motor vehicle. The legislation provides exceptions for drivers engaged in public-safety duties, health-care professionals in emergencies situations, truck drivers with digital dispatch systems, and drivers receiving safety-related information, such as emergency, traffic or weather alerts. The ban does not apply to use of global positioning or navigation systems or hands-free instruments, or to iPods and other devices operated through controls permanently installed on a vehicle.
Iowa law also bars teenagers operating vehicles under restricted or intermediate licenses as well as instructional or school permits from using cell phones or electronic devices while driving.
The distracted driving violation for texting is a simple misdemeanor punishable by a $30 scheduled fine. There are enhanced fines and licensure sanctions for texting violations involving an accident that caused property damage, serious injury or death ranging up to $1,000 and a 180-day license suspension.
Iowa law says law officers cannot not use a suspected texting violation as a primary reason to make a traffic stop. A violation can be cited as a secondary offense if authorities detected another suspected offense that was the main reason for stopping a vehicle. All but four state have primary enforcement for texting violations and some Iowa law officers have called for changing that provision of the 2010 law.
Branstad said he is aware of the concern, but said he has not begun working with his staff to assemble his office’s 2013 legislative agenda.
“I’m willing to look at that,” the governor said. “We haven’t put our program together so we’ll consult with the Department of Transportation and with Public Safety and we’ll see what we want to put in the program for the coming year. We haven’t made any decision on that. But I do want to lead by example.”