Senior Dem Senator to Offer Competing Plan to Limit Distracted Driving

Few if any policy-makers are prepared to defend the dangerous practice of using cell phones and texting behind the wheel. But even as reining in distracted driving gets a higher profile, there is some difference of opinion over whether to use carrots or sticks.

threatlevel_rockefeller_200x_3.jpgSenate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo: Wired)

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) prefers carrots, telling the Los Angeles Times this week that he plans to introduce legislation offering federal aid to states that pass laws banning drivers from using phones and texting devices.

Yet four senators, led by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), already have endorsed the sticks approach, proposing a bill in July that would withhold 25 percents of states’ federal highway money if anti-distracted driving laws are not passed within two years.

The Times reports, without attribution, that Rockefeller’s "incentive approach probably would have a better chance at passage than punitive legislation" such as Menendez and Schumer’s bill. In fact, ten House members already have proposed legislation that would align with the July Senate proposal.

Its chances of passage aside, however, Rockefeller’s incentivized plan — co-sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) — would be more likely to win backing from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which represents state DOTs’ highway safety officials.

The GHSA made headlines over the summer when it embraced a ban on texting while driving, but it later released a more detailed policy proposal that stated: "[T]he federal government does not need to sanction states that do not pass cell phone or texting while driving bans."

Instead, the GHSA suggested that Washington pay for state-level research on how best to enforce texting bans and provide "financial incentives for states" that set up tiered drivers’ licenses for teenagers to prevent them from using texting devices.

Rockefeller’s committee is slated to host senior Obama administration officials in two weeks for a hearing on distracted driving. One co-sponsor of the Menendez-Schumer approach, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), sits on the Commerce panel.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Senior Dems Release New Distracted Driving Bill as LaHood Testifies

|
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) today unveiled his plan to take an incentive-based approach to distracted driving as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified on the Obama administration’s campaign to end the use of electronic devices behind the wheel. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo: Wired) Rockefeller’s bill, co-sponsored by three Republicans […]

Today’s Headlines

|
The head of a controversial "clean coal" group may have just plain told un-truths at yesterday’s congressional hearing on the climate letter-forging scandal (Mother Jones) GM’s new CEO says the Obama administration was "fair" to insist on pay cuts at the company (Det News) Policymakers still falling in love with electric cars — now California’s […]

Senate GOP Continues to Resist Sanctions-Based Distracted Driving Rules

|
The Senate environment committee’s senior Republican yesterday joined his counterpart on the commerce panel in criticizing legislation that would withhold federal highway funding from states that fail to crack down on distracted driving, casting doubt on Congress’ ability to approve any punitive approach to reining in texting and cell phone use by drivers. (Photo: SCnow.com) […]

Congress Takes a First Step Towards Reshaping Transportation Policy

|
Could Washington’s long, unhealthy love affair with the automobile be coming to an end? An encouraging sign of change came today from two powerful Democratic senators who released a proposal that sets out progressive goals for the upcoming federal transportation bill. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo by Washington Post) Today’s proposal, sponsored […]