Four Democratic senators introduced legislation today that would offer states a choice: ban texting and e-mailing while driving within two years or lose 25 percent of their federal highway money.
The bill, sponsored by Robert Menendez (NJ), Charles Schumer (NY), Mary Landrieu (LA), and Kay Hagan (NC), comes as the New York Times grabs national attention with a series on the road safety risks posed by technological devices.
Texting behind the wheel is already illegal in 14 states, but today’s bill would use congressional road aid to spur a nationwide ban. The legislation would not apply to stopped cars or passengers in moving vehicles, but it would affect transit operators, such as the Boston trolley conductor who crashed while texting his girlfriend in May, injuring 49 people.
Threatening to withhold highway money proved mostly successful in pushing states to ban drinking and driving, but some states continued to allow open alcohol containers in moving cars years after Congress took action in its 1998 transportation bill.
The texting-while-driving bill would give states two years to pass their own bans after the U.S. DOT sets minimum penalties for violators. States that can’t meet that time frame could retroactively recover the lost road aid once texting limits are approved.
Presumably, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) would take a closer look at signing onto the bill depending on his likely opponent in the upcoming November election. One of Bayh’s potential GOP challengers, Dan Dumezich, caused a stir yesterday by correcting a media report on his candidacy with a quip on his Facebook page.
"That’s what happens when I text while driving!" Dumezich wrote.
Menendez’s statement on the bill follows after the jump:
iPhones, Sidekicks and Blackberries are ingenious,
indispensible devices. But while they make our lives so much easier, they make
driving that much harder. Texting while driving should be
illegal on every road, every railway, in every state. Anything we can do at every
level of government to raise awareness and stop texting while driving will save
lives — particularly the lives of those new drivers who are accustomed to
texting anywhere, anytime. They are at risk, and they put our families at