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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Patrol getting creative in enforcing texting ban

On one case, troopers used RV to spot texting while driving
Jul 27, 2017

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette


CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Trainor issued his first citation for texting while driving three days after the ban took effect.

It was on Blairs Ferry Road, a busy east-west arterial in northern Cedar Rapids “and she was right beside me texting,” the trooper said. “I buzzed my horn at her, but she didn’t notice, so I pulled her over.”

More motorists on Iowa roads will be taking notice of the texting ban as the patrol steps up enforcement efforts of the distracted driving law in new and creative ways.

The law, which took effect July 1, bans reading, writing and sending electronic messages while driving. Violators can be fined $30.

On Interstate 80 near the Quad Cities, one enforcement action had troopers patrolling in a recreational vehicle, which gave them a higher vantage point to see texting drivers, said Lt. Brian Votroubek of Post 12 in Stockton.

Although not many citations have been issued, Votroubek said the enforcement actions have been successful.

“It helps get the word out that we’re doing it,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep people safe and keep the roadway open.”

Post 11, which includes Linn, Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Poweshiek and Tama counties, is using more informal enforcement actions, Trainor said. In some cases, troopers are driving unmarked cars while looking for texting drivers as well as motorists violating speed and seat belt laws.

Votroubek expects Post 12 will continue enforcements in “short bursts.” It’s hard to do longer enforcements because troopers get other service calls. In two cases, Votroubek said, troopers have been called away from enforcement actions to respond to traffic crashes.

An enforcement action Tuesday by Post 11 was interrupted when troopers had to respond to fatal crashes, Trainor said.

In another enforcement action, Department of Natural Resource officers relayed sightings of texting drivers to troopers, Trooper Alex Dinkla said.

“Driving through a construction zone? The man or woman on the side of the road in construction gear might just be a trooper,” he added.

Drivers have been surprised when pulled over for distracted driving because they assume they’re being pulled over for something else, Votroubek said.

“When we talk to them, they understand they’re not supposed to be doing it,” he added.

Troopers do get “blowback” from drivers saying they were not texting but instead using a GPS app, which is permitted along with making phone calls, Trainor said.

“But you see them holding the phone and their thumbs are moving, it’s pretty obvious,” Trainor said.

One common misconception is that texting is permitted at stop signs and stop lights. But unless a vehicle is off the traveled portion of the road and in park, that’s illegal, Trainor said.

Drivers have been stopped not only texting but playing video games and watching YouTube videos, Votroubek said.

In some cases, Trainor said, troopers are issuing warnings rather than citations. Some also have handed out cellphone sleeves. When a phone is placed in the sleeve, conductive fabric lining blocks radio frequencies from reaching it.

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