Proposed Federal Act Rewards States for Distracted Driving Laws
The bill, which will now head to the full Senate, would create a $94 million program to dole out grants to states that prohibit texting and phoning while driving. Unlike a competing distracted driving bill, it would not punish states for failing to enact such laws.
The bill comes with strings attached for receiving federal money. States would have to pass laws against both texting and using a handheld phone while driving. In addition, the laws would have to feature primary enforcement.
The primary enforcement aspect, meaning law enforcement would be able to stop a driver over for texting or using a cell phone, concerns some legislators, as they see it as the federal government intruding too directly how states go about enforcing the such laws.
Many States-Rights advocates feel specific details of how laws work in practice are better worked out by the states, allowing them to try different methods in developing ways of treating new problems. There is always a concern that Congress will micromanage issues that are still unsettled, and apply the wrong solution to a problem in all 50 states.
Some safety advocates would argue the problem, distracted drivers, is understood. Drivers have far too many distractions in the vehicle and the temptation to use a cell phone is simply too great and one too many. By taking it out of the mix and allowing law enforcement the opportunity to stop and ticket a driver for this activity sends a strong message that it is not acceptable.
Another advantage of federal legislation is that it brings uniformity to what is currently a mishmash of regulation across the states and within individual states.
According to a survey by AAA, in Texas if you are driving in El Paso, you are banned from text messaging and using hand-held cell phones, while in Austin, Galveston, Missouri City and Stephenville, only text messaging while driving is prohibited.
In 2009, the Texas legislature enacted a new law that prohibits the use of a wireless communication device within a school crossing zone. All Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle. And this is just in Texas.
Currently, Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have laws against texting while driving. Seven states and D.C. prohibit using handheld devices on the road.
Given the current uncertainty in this area of law, and the near constant change, from cities passing local ordinances and the legislatures creating state laws, to potential federal legislation, contact an attorney if you've been involved in an accident with a driver whom you suspect of cell phone usage, texting or other forms of distracted driving.