A leading cause of death among young Iowans is car crashes. Iowa officials know that many factors contribute to the tragic toll, including alcohol, speeding and failure to buckle up.
Now the Iowa Department of Transportation is taking aim at a leading cause of those crashes — distracted driving. It plans to offer a new smartphone application to block texts when a driver is moving faster than 15 mph.
The app, being developed with federal highway safety funds, will be provided free next year to Iowa drivers between 14 and 17 years old. That’s a group of drivers who lack much experience behind the wheel but are prolific when it comes to texting. Older drivers will be able to get the app for a fee.
Both Iowa and Nebraska already prohibit texting while driving, but a driver can be ticketed only if stopped for a different traffic violation.
Iowa’s app idea has a fan in Nebraska. State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said he wants to explore the possibility of something similar in Nebraska.
There are many reasons to applaud Iowa’s move. According to the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau:
>> Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
>> Drivers using hand-held devices are four times as likely to be in a crash serious enough to injure themselves or others.
>> Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field blind.
>> In 2011, Iowa had 679 traffic crashes as a direct result of distracted drivers.
Officials have been promoting the app during the Iowa State Fair, where public response has been generally favorable.
The app is going to be called “TXTL8R.” It’s an XLNT idea.