Part III – The Consequences
We've talked about what is prohibited. We have talked about how the government may attempt to prove their case. This leaves one unanswered question – what are the consequences to texting and driving in Iowa?
In Iowa, the consequences for texting and driving currently depend upon the results of the conduct. If no accident occurred, texting and driving is a non-moving violation punishable by a $30 fine. Do not expect this offense to remain a non-mover for long. The Iowa Legislature is simply easing the public into the concept that texting and driving is dangerous and therefore illegal.
The stakes become elevated quickly if an accident causing personal injury or death results from texting and driving. If the act of texting and driving was a cause of an accident that results in death, the offending driver may be charged with Vehicular Homicide. Vehicular Homicide by texting and driving is a very serious criminal offense and is a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
If the accident caused by texting and driving results in serious injury as opposed to death, the applicable criminal charge is still a felony. Serious Injury by Vehicle, by way of texting and driving is a Class D felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
In addition to the enhanced criminal consequences, the changes to Iowa's texting and driving restrictions have a significant impact in personal injury and wrongful death cases that arise out of texting and driving offenses. Iowa law now presumes that a driver is acting recklessly if they are violating the texting and driving restrictions at the time of an accident. Reckless conduct by a driver that results in injury or death to another person means that the reckless driver may also be sued for something called punitive damages.
In true accident cases where a civil defendant's conduct is not considered reckless or a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, the injured party is only permitted to be compensated for actual injuries and damages sustained. However, punitive damages allow a judge or jury to hand down additional monetary compensation against a defendant whose conduct was reckless. The purpose of punitive damages are to punish the offender and to deter future similar behavior by others. These types of damages are not ordinarily covered by insurance policies, are not dischargable in bankruptcy, and may financially cripple a person against whom they are imposed. Punitive damage are usually handed down in some of the larger million dollar verdicts you hear about across the country.
While a $30, non-moving violation may not seem like much, as you can see, the risks are not worth taking. One little message, one bit of bad luck, one moment of inattentiveness, can have life-altering consequences on both sides of a case. The texting ban is not by accident. It is backed by numerous scientific studies, all of which conclude that texting and driving is dangerous. Some studies have even concluded that texting and driving impairs a persons ability to safely drive more than being legally drunk. We have enough "legal" distractions to deal with as we drive. Please, regardless of what is technically legal or how you may envision getting away with it, keep your phone in your pocket and get yourself, your friends, family, and the rest of the public, home safely.