Senator pairs traffic camera ban with requiring drivers’ cell phones be in hands free mode

DES MOINES — A state senator who’s tried for years to ban traffic cameras is pairing a proposed ban with a plan to crack down on motorists who use their smart phones while driving.

Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale began the effort in 2011 after a camera ticketed his vehicle speeding in Cedar Rapids, but it was his son behind the wheel at the time. “I believe fundamentally that they’re against our constitution,” Zaun said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter who’s driving the car, whoever the car’s registered (to), the ticket goes in the mail.”

Zaun held a subcommittee hearing this morning. Relatives of three Iowans who’ve been killed by a driver distracted by a smart phone pleaded with Zaun to just advance the requirement that drivers’ smart phones be in hands-free mode on the road. Peter Bengston told senators his daughter Ellen was riding her bicycle near Charles City in 2020 when she was struck and killed by a driver who was opening an app on his cell phone.

“She did nothing wrong, but the driver confessed and walked free because of the current (law) out there,” Benston said. “This is an issue of public highway safety and we ask that you have a clean hands-free-while-driving bill made public and prevent other families from going through the loss my family is going through right now.”

Veronica Young held a photo of her 22 year old son Derrius who was killed near Sumner on February 5th of last year by a driver who ran a stop sign.  “Hands free is such a big deal and could save so much heartache,” she said. “My son was important. My son meant the world to a whole lot of people other than just family and he had a bright future that was taken away for absolutely no reason.”

Kristi Castenson of Harcourt held up a photo of her husband and their family. Dave Cartenson and his 85-year-old mother were killed in 2015 by a driver using a smart phone. The driver, who was convicted, was sentenced to probation in the first case of distracted driving prosecuted in Iowa.

“We need to do something as citizens to protect the people in Iowa and everywhere because we’re losing way too many people or people are being injured,” she said. “It affects the rest of their life.”

State troopers and. police officers from Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque and Fayette urged Senator Zaun to drop his proposal to ban traffic cameras in Iowa after July 1st of 2025. Fayette Police Chief Ben Davis said he doesn’t have the staff that many metro areas have and traffic cameras are

“We were one of the first agencies in the state to start a rural traffic program,” Davis said. “Since then we’ve been able to reduce traffic incidences to nearly zero in four years. It helps protect our town and it’s a force multiplier. Technology for law enforcement is always a force multiplier.”

Last year the Iowa Senate did pass a bill to require that drivers only use a smart phone in hands-free mode, but it stalled in the House.