Distracted driving incentives survive

washington Congress - capitol buildingDistracted driving incentives survived an official challenge from the U.S. House, as the federal transportation bill was approved and sent to the president for his signature.

The bill provides about $78 million in incentives for states that ban text messaging for all drivers and the use of handheld cell phones by young drivers. States that do not would not share in this additional funding but would not lose existing funding.

States receiving the distracted driving grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation will be required to spend some of the money on enforcement and education. The DOT already has been funding distracted driving crackdowns in several states as “research” into possible solutions to the problem.

The transportation bill was approved late Friday — the result of an unusual compromise for this fractured Congress necessitated by a weekend deadline.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., led the House opposition to the distracted driving grants, already approved by senators.

sen. rockefeller federal distracted driving law advocateThe idea of federal incentives to fight distracted driving was not new. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., left, pushed for the grants as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Cars and trucks with a distracted driver are deadly weapons and we have a responsibility to get them off the road,” he said while first floating the plan (unsuccessfully) in 2009. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed similar federal incentives.

The transportation bill represents more than $100 billion in spending, but the distracted driving incentives’ relatively minor $78 million tab led to sharp debate between supportive Democrats — who cited “a growing crisis” on the nation’s roads — and resistant Republicans who were wary of further government intrusion into state policies.

Citing the 10th amendment, Rep. Black insisted “the federal government should not be manipulating state law through taxpayer funded distracted driving grants.” She succeeded in winning House approval of a motion to instruct to spike the distracted driving provision OK’d by the Senate. (Video below.)

“This is about protecting states rights under the 10th amendment of the Constitution,” Black said.

“What is best for the state of Massachusetts may not be best for the state of Montana,” Black told the House, calling for more federal studies of “all forms of distracted driving.” Black, a nurse and former state senator in Tennessee, said she voted three times for distracted driving measures in her home state.

In the end, the DOT grants did not appear to be a sticking point as Republicans and Democrats reached agreement Friday just before a pressing weekend deadline.

Late Friday, President Obama approved emergency funding tied to the bill that allowed student loans to remain at current rates instead of doubling. The loan rate was due to expire Sunday, along with various transportation project funding.


  1. Al Cinamon says:

    To stem the tide of traffic crashes there must be a way to remove the profit motive. Many people including the government make a lot of money from crashes. It’s in the billions.

    You will hear talk (and that’s all it is, just talk) about the vast amount of money that crashes cost the consumer. What they don’t talk about is the fact that if someone has to shell out money then someone else is receiving it. In other words, if you crash you will have medical bills and legal fees. Well, guess what? Doctors and lawyers collect those fees. That’s their source of income. And the State makes money by taxing thos transactions (sales tax and income tax).

    So, you see, it doesn’t cost the government anything when you crash. In fact, they make money when you crash. That’s why, boys and girls, States turn a deaf ear towards crashing.

    I will go one step further. The States actually encourage crashing. By passing a cell phone law that only bans “holding” the phone but not “talking” on the phone the State is actually encouraging distracted driving because the conversation is the distraction. … not holding the phone.

  2. Often the talking on your handheld mobile device is overlooked and the focus is all on texting. A law nationwide, if not in states separately, should INCLUDE talking on a handheld device in addition to texting. Furthermore, the violation SHOULD be a primary offense not a secondary offense. (Some) states like Ohio have a weak law that makes texting (no mention of talking on a mobile phone) a secondary offense for adults but a primary offense for teens. I don’t know why politicians sit on their duffs, maybe because they are one of the biggest violators?

  3. Too many people are sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds, driving at high speeds and their eyes are everywhere BUT on the road in front of them. This has got to stop. There are far too many people dying senselessly. People who are driving distracted should be punished the same as someone driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I would spend the rest of my life as an advocate against cell phone use while driving if I knew where to begin.

  4. Kerrie Bryant says:

    Our dear Mother was killed by a driver that was playing on his cell phone until he crashed into her head on, across traffice, killing her and hurting his knee. He has denied everything and we are very frustrated that the local officials won’t try to prosecute him and he didn’t even get a ticket. Actually the prosecuting attorney was so rude to us we felt like we had killed someone when we left The prosecuting attorney told us if we wanted him to he could write a ticket to the other driver for crossing the yellow line. Wow, that distracted driver’s insurance won’t even go up!

    Our Mom was a reitred nurse, she and our father had been married 52 years. He is devastated. The driver not only killed my mother but he has destroyed my dads life. We would love to help get more legislation for drivers texting or on the internet!

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