Troopers hitch a ride to catch distracted drivers in the act on Iowa highways


IOWA — Distracted drivers can sometimes be hard to spot for law enforcement. But on Monday, troopers with the Iowa State Patrol had a perfect view to catch them in the act. Troopers rode ‘shotgun’ in an unmarked semi-truck, giving them a hidden perch to witness drivers texting, surfing the internet and even watching a movie instead of focusing on the road.

Troopers in the trucks would radio to an unmarked patrol car after catching a driver illegally using a device while driving. Troopers say they were busy all morning, and it didn’t take long to spot drivers breaking the law as soon as trucks rolled out. There have been 256 fatalities on Iowa roads so far in 2021 and most of them were completely preventable if not for a simple driver error, the State Patrol says.

“We need you to take some responsibility for your own actions. Take that device, put it on do not disturb, put it down, put it in an area where you’re not going to be more apt to grab it,” says Sergeant Alex Dinkla, “Just silence it. Jake that temptation away, take that urge away.”

Dinkla says data shows this time of year is when serious crashes spike in Iowa. That is why they chose now to carry out the unique enforcement operation.

Iowa law does not ban ‘using’ a phone while driving, but it does become illegal when drivers start ‘interfacing’ with a device. For example, troopers say drivers can make a phone call or check their GPS directions. However sending a text or typing in directions is not allowable. Neither is surfing the internet, social media or watching a movie – as one driver was doing on Monday morning.

Tickets for distracted driving are around $100. But Dinkla says the real cost is the damage and loss of life that can happen when a distraction turns into a collision.

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