Distracted driving fatalities doubled in Iowa from 2014 to 2015
The number of people killed or injured in accidents resulting from use of a phone or other device while driving has increased dramatically in Iowa recently.
“We have to do something,” said Pat Hoye, bureau chief for the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.
In 2015 the number of people who died in accidents caused by drivers distracted by use of a phone or other device doubled from the previous year, according to statistics released in May by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Fourteen people were killed in these accidents in 2015 — including Grace Harken of Riceville, a bicyclist struck by a motorist who was texting and driving — compared to seven in 2014.
Last year 601 people were injured in these accidents, 270 more than in 2014.
The overall number of accidents caused by distracted driving rose to 1,100 last year, a 43 percent increase from 2014.
In 2001 there were only 518 crashes listing distracted driving as a cause in Iowa, resulting in 357 injuries and one death, according to the DOT.
Hoye said one reason for the dramatic increase in distracted driving is nowadays “just about everyone has a cellphone.”
Cell phones aren’t the only distraction for drivers, but they are one of the major ones, according to Hoye.
Although any use of a phone while driving can cause distraction, texting is even more dangerous because “it requires more concentrated thinking and taking a hand off the wheel,” he said.
However, it is still only a secondary offense for adults, which means they can only be cited for texting while driving if they are first pulled over for some other offense.
In 2015 the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense for adults, but it did not pass in the House.
“We are encouraging legislators to look at this in the upcoming session,” Hoye said.
State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said when she is on the road she can tell when other drivers are texting because they are traveling slower or weaving back and forth across the center line.
Steckman said texting while driving should be a primary offense for adults as well as teens.
If that happens, “people will take it a little more seriously,” she said.
State Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, D-Cresco, whose district includes part of North Iowa, said there’s definitely been discussion among her constituents about distracted driving, including texting.
She said she is sure the issue will come up for discussion again next year in the legislature and she hopes this time making texting while driving a primary offense will pass.
Wilhelm said this would be “a step in the right direction.”