Teen drivers of Iowa beware: The Department of Transportation
wants to shut down your smartphone.
The Iowa DOT plans to roll out an app called "TXTL8R" by early
2014. In case you are over the age of 16, TXTL8R means "text later"
in smartphone talk. The DOT is choosing a tech firm to build the
The DOT will pick up the tab for any drivers between the ages of
14 and 17. Similar, commercial apps typically come with a purchase
price of $75 to $300 or a monthly fee. (See "
3 ways to keep your kids from texting
Andrea Henry, a spokesperson with the Iowa DOT, says the app
will temporarily disable text and phone capabilities once a car
reaches 15 mph and respond to an incoming call or text with a
message that the person is driving. The app also would allow
parents to monitor driving habits and notify them if their teen
deletes the app from his or her phone.
You mean your state doesn't have an app?
Development of the app puts the Iowa DOT in a league of its own
when it comes to texting-while-driving prevention. Kara Macek of
the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) says there are no
other states considering this type of action in the fight against
While the GHSA believes these types of apps can definitely curb
texting behind the wheel, Macek warns that they are only effective
if drivers use them.
The state has no plans to make the app mandatory.
The Iowa DOT is "simply hoping to encourage safe driving
behaviors and start conversations about driving habits," says
Henry. The state Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau reports that
texting behind the wheel was a major factor in 679 traffic
accidents in Iowa in 2011.
A third party will monitor all information generated by the app;
Henry says the DOT will not have access to individual drivers'
State Sen. Tod Bowman, chairman of the Transportation Committee,
says that while the state won't force teen drivers to use the app,
just looking at voluntary use would be valuable. "It would be
interesting to conduct a study once it is up and running to study
its effectiveness as well as how many drivers are using it," Bowman
Fines remain low
The DOT is promoting the app at the Iowa State Fair with a
T-shirt giveaway to drivers who can pass a safety practice test.
Once the fair packs up, the DOT will be looking for other venues to
hype the app, "We will promote the app through a number of
different channels, including driver training manuals," says Henry.
The state has also purchased three driving simulators with a grant
from State Farm.
While the state's app is a cutting-edge strategy, its current
texting laws are not especially aggressive. Iowa law prohibits all
drivers from texting, and those holding a restricted license are
not allowed to use any electronic communication devices behind the
wheel. Police can pull over a texting teenager on sight.
But a texting violation brings only a $30 fine, among the lowest
in the country, and the conviction is not a moving violation that
appears on the driver's motor vehicle record or affects insurance
rates. Fines and penalties escalate if the driver causes an
accident or injuries.
The application comes at a time when distracted driving deaths
are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, there were 3,331 distracted driving deaths in 2011
compared to 3,267 in 2010. Younger drivers are at an even bigger
risk, with the highest proportion of distraction related to fatal