Richard-Schmidt - MSM&C

Attorney at Mueller, Schmidt, Mulholland & Cooling

Practice Areas: Motor Vehicle Accidents, Workers’ Compensation, Personal Injury

Iowa has experienced a nearly 9% increase in highway fatalities compared to the five-year average, with 197 fatalities reported on Iowa roads. The Iowa Department of Transportation has also stated between 2015 and 2020, distraction by an electronic device contributed to up to 14 fatalities per year in Iowa.

Cell Phones and Electronic Devices

In 2020, nearly 2% of all motor vehicle crashes in Iowa involved drivers who were distracted by a phone or other electronic device. While these numbers may vary over time, they highlight the impact of distracted driving on road safety in the state.

The Iowa distracted driving law, effective since July 1, 2017, makes texting while driving a primary offense. This means that law enforcement officers can stop any driver who is texting (reading, writing, or sending messages) while operating a vehicle. By implementing this law, Iowa aims to reduce distractions caused by phone usage while driving and promote safer roads.

Eating, grooming, talking to passengers, and in-vehicle systems

It’s important to note that distraction by electronic devices is just one form of distracted driving. Other common distractions include eating, grooming, talking to passengers, or adjusting in-vehicle systems. These distractions can divert a driver’s attention from the road and significantly increase the risk of accidents and injuries.

Distracted driving fatalities in Iowa in recent years

So far in May, 2023 Iowa is up to 113 fatalities. In 2021, there were a total of 24 fatalities in Iowa attributed to distracted driving, according to the Iowa DOT. In 2022, the number of deaths caused by distracted and inattentive drivers rose, resulting in 20 fatalities across the state. These numbers reflect the seriousness of the issue and the need for continued efforts to address distracted driving in Iowa. Iowa DOT continues to update statistics for 2023 regularly. 

Over time, distracted driving statistics have undergone trends and changes that reflect the evolving landscape of technology and societal behavior. 

  • Increase in Device Usage: The rise of smartphones and in-vehicle infotainment systems has contributed to an increase in distracted driving incidents. Studies indicate that the use of electronic devices while driving has become a significant concern. For example, a report mentioned that using devices while driving increased from 1.5% in 2012 to 3.4% in 2021.
  • Impact of Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on distracted driving trends. Some reports suggested that distracted driving incidents surged during the pandemic, possibly due to factors like increased stress, anxiety, or the use of mobile devices for communication purposes.
  • Fatalities and Crashes: Distracted driving has been associated with an alarming number of fatalities and crashes. While the exact statistics may vary, there have been instances where distracted driving fatalities increased over time. For instance, a study mentioned that fatalities from distracted driving increased by 28% between 2005 and 2008.
  • Behavior and Prevalence: Distracted driving remains a prevalent issue, and studies have examined driver behavior and engagement in potentially distracting activities. Surveys and research have provided insights into the prevalence of distracted driving behaviors among different age groups, driver characteristics, and device usage patterns.
  • Efforts and Awareness: Iowa State University’s April, 2023 Just Drive is one example working to address distracted driving and raise awareness about its dangers. These efforts include promoting safe driving practices, advocating for stricter laws and penalties, and encouraging the use of hands-free technologies.

The correlation between distracted driving and other causes of accidents in Iowa

16% of motor vehicle accidents in Iowa involved a distraction. This accounted for approximately 9,000 out of over 55,000 accidents reported. Specifically, around 400 of these crashes were attributed to drivers talking on or manually operating electronic devices.

Distracted driving can have various forms, such as taking hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road. In 2014 alone, 771 accidents were attributed to driver distraction by cell phones or other devices.

Distracted driving is considered a leading cause of car accidents in the United States, and  Iowa is no exception. The state surpasses other common causes such as bad weather, speeding, and even contributes to fatal crashes. Transforming the traffic safety culture to discourage distracted driving is a potential solution to reduce accidents caused by such behaviors.

Distracted drivers by age 

According to distracted driving statistics, certain age groups are more likely to be distracted behind the wheel than others. For example, drivers aged 18 to 34 reported feeling a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related distractions. Additionally, a higher percentage of drivers aged 15 to 20 were found to be distracted compared to those aged 21 and older. These statistics indicate that younger drivers may be more susceptible to distractions while driving.

Regular distracted driving behavior is widespread, with the majority of incidents concentrated among drivers younger than age 50. However, no specific age group or demographic stands out as being exclusively responsible for distracted driving. It is important to note that distractions can vary and may include factors like cellphone use, in-vehicle technology, or other external influences.

Comparisons of distracted driving statistics in Iowa with national or regional averages

When comparing distracted driving statistics in Iowa with national or regional averages, it is important to consider various factors. According to a study, Iowa has been described as “about average” when it comes to texting and driving. 

Impact on auto insurance rates

It’s worth noting that distracted driving violations can lead to significant penalties and increased insurance rates. For example, a distracted driving violation can raise insurance rates by an average of 23%. The impact of distracted driving goes beyond statistics and can have financial implications for individuals involved in such violations.

Hands-free driving regulations in Iowa

Distracted Driving Law

Hands-free driving regulations have been implemented to reduce distractions and enhance road safety. As of July 1, 2017, Iowa’s distracted driving law became a primary law, allowing law enforcement officers to stop any driver who is engaged in texting (reading, writing, or sending) or using any other portable electronic device, except when the vehicle is completely stopped and off the traveled portion of the roadway.

In recent years, there have been efforts to strengthen hands-free driving regulations in Iowa. Proposed legislation aims to ban all use of a phone by hand while driving, going beyond the existing ban on texting while driving. If signed into law, Iowa would join the 30 states that have already implemented comprehensive hands-free driving laws. Safety advocates argue that even the briefest distractions can lead to car accidents, pointing to data linking phone use to increased accident rates.

Under the current law, only texting while driving is explicitly prohibited in Iowa. However, the proposed legislation would require drivers to keep their phones down entirely while operating a vehicle, emphasizing the importance of minimizing distractions caused by electronic devices.

If you have been involved in a distracted driving accident, contact or call us at 515-444-4000 as soon as possible for a free consultation.

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