(TNS) -- DES MOINES -- Iowans' days of texting while driving without fear of being stopped may be numbered.
The House Transportation Committee unanimously approved a ban on texting while driving, but Senate File 234 still would allow drivers to use a smartphone to hold a conversation or get GPS directions.
That doesn't go as far as bill manager Rep. Gary Worthan would like. Still, the Storm Lake Republicans called the bill, which has been approved by the Senate 43-6, "a huge improvement over current law" that does not allow officers to stop drivers only for texting while driving.
SF 234 would make texting a primary offense, meaning drivers could be pulled over by officers for using a phone to write, send or view electronic messages, viewing social media and gaming.
That's still a problem for law enforcement because drivers who are stopped undoubtedly will say they were making a call, not texting, Worthan said.
"But a stop has still occurred and a warning issued," he said.
Worthan also held out hope the Legislature might come back in a year or two with a ban on the use of hand-held communications devices.
"I think statistics are on our side," he said, after the bill was approved 21-0.
According to Iowa Department of Transportation data, the number of crashes attributed to distracted driving increased from 659 in 2010 to 1,100 in 2015, injuries increased from 288 to 601 and fatalities increased from four to 14.
Driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Iowa Department of Public Safety reported that 68 percent of all traffic deaths in the last five years are lane departure crashes, a sign of distracted driving.
And, according to Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, texting and driving is now the leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers, surpassing drinking and driving.
©2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.