Iowa DOT urges lawmakers to adopt FMCSA-compliant cellphone use laws

January 3, 2018

Tyson Fisher


The Iowa Department of Transportation is urging state lawmakers to make changes to statutes that deal with cellphone use for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Current laws in the state are not compliant with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding.

IDOT Director Mark Lowe recently drafted a proposal to the state legislature to adopt the federal regulations that apply to texting or using a handheld mobile device while driving a CMV, allowing any violations to be identified on a driver’s record. Currently, Iowa does not have a “separate and distinct citation for CMV operators that are charged with driving a CMV while texting or using a handheld mobile telephone,” according to the proposal.

Failing to comply with the federal regulations can potentially cost the state up to $35 million in federal funding. Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has not threatened IDOT to withhold funding, the agency has made the department aware of the noncompliance.

“FMCSA has definitely told us that our statutory structure isn’t in compliance with federal regulations,” Lowe told Land Line Now.“They verbally told us that and asked us to fix it by passing legislation that resolves that.”

Lowe said the proposal was more of warning to legislatures to address the issue or else face possible consequences. Lowe’s job is to make suggestions and let the legislature know what the consequences could be if not followed, especially any negative or positive fiscal impact.

“In this instance, the fiscal impact if we continue to ignore this is a potential loss of highway funds,” Lowe said. “That would be important in my role to let the legislature know.”

According to the proposal, Iowa’s general texting-while-driving law does not require one-touch operation and hands-free use of mobile phones. The state law also does not require the mobile phone to be within the driver’s immediate reach. The federal regulations are more restrictive.

Although Iowa has adopted laws more in tune with the federal regulations, FMCSA had advised IDOT that the state is still not compliant due to the nature of the citations. More specifically, citations under the present-day statute structure cannot be tracked on a driver’s record. A driver can lose his or her CDL with a cellphone use violation in combination with other offenses, making the need to identify the violation for commercial drivers more significant.

IDOT is simply requesting that the legislature adopt a “distinct code section that can be specifically cited, which will allow them to be properly and specifically identified and tracked on the driver’s record.” Lowe pointed out that this does not add any new restrictions on CMV operators. Rather, it allows the state and feds to track violations that have already existed and are being enforced.

Land Line Now’s Mary McKenna contributed to this report