Distracted driving not just texting

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 3 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:34 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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The obvious dangers of texting while driving get a lot of attention, and rightly so. State lawmakers banned texting behind the wheel in 2010, and multiple education efforts have been aimed at underscoring the risks and consequences.

But texting is not the only dangerous distraction taking Iowans’ eyes off the road. So we’re supportive of the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s drive to pass a stronger, broader state law against distracted driving, regardless of the reason.

The department wants lawmakers to add a distracted-driving subsection to an existing law penalizing drivers who fail to maintain control of their vehicle. And unlike the narrow texting ban, which can only be enforced if a driver is stopped for another traffic violation, the new law would be a primary moving violation. An officer could stop and fine a driver for being distracted, as exhibited by driving behavior. The new law would carry a $100 fine, compared to the $30 fine for texting.

We understand that devils can pop up in the details of such a proposal as it makes its way through the Legislature. But we support the general approach. Instead of banning specific behaviors, the proposal seeks to get at the dangerous driving that results from those choices. Texting, clearly, is a safety threat, but focusing on it alone leaves out many other distractions.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Iowa Department of Transportation reports that 81 deaths in 19,256 crashes were associated with inattentive or distracted driving, including six deaths in the current year. Roughly 40 percent of those crashes, with 27 deaths, involved the use of a phone or other device.

Education remains the best way to hammer home the message that failing to pay attention can be deadly. Good work is already being done on that front. And drivers who don’t get the message, get distracted and fail to control their vehicle on public roadways should be punished. We hope the Legislature follows through on the Department of Public Safety’s proposal.

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