Iowa Distracted Driving

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws in Iowa

There are roughly 55,000 car accidents every year in Iowa. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

The Iowa Department of Public Safety defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving.”

It should be no surprise that distractions while driving can increase your risk of being in an accident. Currently, the state of Iowa is focused primarily on preventing the distractions caused by texting while driving, but there are many other factors at play, too.


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Distracted Driving Statistics in Iowa

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Iowa:

  • In 2018, cell phone distractions caused 1,090 car crashes in Iowa.
  • These distracted driving accidents results in 9 fatalities and 524 injuries.
  • People who use handheld devices while driving are four times more likely to get in a serious accident than those who don’t.

Number of Cell Phone Distraction Accidents in Iowa by Year

Number of Cellphone Distraction Accidents in Iowa by Year

The number of distracted driving accidents has increased as the use of smartphones has become more common. In 2017, Iowa’s laws changed, making it easier for police officers to cite drivers who are texting while behind the wheel. This has led to a decrease in distracted driving crashes.

Does Iowa Have Laws against Distracted Driving?


Currently, Iowa prohibits:

  • All drivers from reading, writing, or sending text messages or typing into any other portable device unless the vehicle is stopped and pulled off the traveled portion of the road
  • All drivers from using social medial or engaging in general Internet browsing unless the vehicle is stopped and pulled off the traveled portion of the road
  • Drivers under the age of 18 from the use of any type of cell phone or portable communication device, even hands-free
  • Adult drivers who have instructional permits or intermediate driver’s licenses from using any type of cell phone or portable communication device, even hands-free

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Iowa?


The law that prohibits reading a text message while driving is not applicable to:

  • Members of a public safety agency who are performing official duties
  • Health care professionals in the course of an emergency situation
  • Drivers who are receiving safety-related information, including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts

Iowa Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

            Yes              No
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                                 X
Is handheld device use permitted?                 X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                 X                 
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                 X                

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Iowa?

Yes. But that doesn't really mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms. From texting to watching videos, to less obvious distractions like searching for your sunglasses or munching on French fries, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard.

So, what happens if a police officer in Iowa spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically states you can't eat while driving in this state.

However, eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or to lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign, and you could be pulled over for that. And if that happens, you may get written up for careless driving as well as for the moving violation.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’d be better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Iowa uses primary enforcement.

This wasn’t always the case. Until mid-2017, the state relied on secondary enforcement. This made it very hard for police to cite drivers who violated the no-texting laws. 

Now, however, if a police officer sees you texting while behind the wheel, they can pull you over and write up a citation, even if you're in total control of your vehicle.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Iowa?

The fines for distracted driving include:

  • For adults cited for text-messaging, social media, or internet use while driving: $30 fine
  • For drivers under 18 who are cited for cell phone use:  $50 fine
  • For causing a serious injury while texting and driving: $500 fine and/or a 90-day suspension of your driver’s license
  • For causing a death while texting and driving: $1,000 fine and/or a 180-day suspension of your driver’s license

In addition to the fines listed above, there are added court costs and fees.

Iowa compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving, and as time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.

Does Distracted Driving in Iowa Increase Insurance Rates?

Most likely, yes.

A distracted driving citation goes on your driving record. Whether this means you'll see a spike in your car insurance rates depends on your insurance company and your previous driving history. One study found that insurance rates increase as much as $120 a year following a distracted driving citation in this state.

Also, for drivers enjoying a safe driver discount, a distracted driving charge can eliminate this perk and make your insurance rates go up even more.

Chances are good that the text message you just have to read or send isn't worth the fine and the increased car insurance rates, so leave the phone down when you're driving. Save the texting for when you reach your destination or have pulled over and stopped your vehicle.

What If I Drive into Illinois or Wisconsin?

You may be wondering about how the law affects you if you drive across the border into another state where distracted driving laws may be different.

Illinois requires phone calls to be made hands-free, and Wisconsin prohibits the use of handheld devices in construction zones. Does this mean that if your car isn't outfitted for hands-free cell-phone use, you can’t talk on the phone while driving through Illinois?  The answer is yes.

As a driver, you're required to adhere to the laws of any state in which you happen to be driving. Laws are constantly being updated to reduce the number of distracted driving accidents, so be sure to review and familiarize yourself with the laws of the states you will be driving through prior to taking a road trip.

What Is Iowa Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Previous attempts to ban the use of handheld devices while driving in Iowa have failed to pass through the state House and Senate. Governor Kim Reynolds has stated that she is willing to back such a law if lawmakers take it up again. “The statistics are proving out that we need to probably take a look at that,” she said.

In the meantime, as the state starts to review the results of its recently updated distracted driving laws, elected officials may take the step of passing laws that make the roads even more safe for Iowa drivers.


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So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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