Distracted Driving Debate Continues in Congress as Consensus Looks Elusive

After three public hearings in one week on the increasingly hot-button issue of distracted driving, Congress appears no closer to answering the question of whether a punitive strategy for encouraging state-level action — such as threatening to withhold highway funds — can win sufficient support from conservatives.

In the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, Democratic elder statesman Rep. John Dingell (MI) called on his colleagues to "exercise a modicum of restraint" as they considered how to prod states to ban texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. Dingell said (emphasis mine):

Although we share a justified measure of concern about the
relationship between use of certain technological devices and driver
safety, we have to guard against enthusiastically enacting overly
prescriptive statutes
and directing creation of regulatory regimes that
in the long term may stifle innovation and ultimately show them to be
of marginal benefit to the cause of improving driver safety.

Dingell’s tepid view of the federal role in limiting distracted driving should not come as a surprise to most, given his stalwart support for the U.S. auto industry. But Ford has already endorsed legislation that takes a punitive approach to banning texting while driving, potentially offering political cover to lawmakers who want to follow suit.

Still, few Democrats offered distinct words of support for pending legislation that would yank 25 percent of highway funding from states which fail to crack down on drivers’ gadget use.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Energy and Commerce’s chairman, wondered "whether hands-free devices are any
safer than hand-held," suggesting that any attempt to entice states into passing hands-free laws might ultimately do little for road safety.

On the GOP side, however, there was no shortage of lawmakers urging Washington to stay out of it and let states go their own way on distracted driving. (Of the 18 states with laws on the books banning texting behind the wheel, four lack basic tools for enforcement.)

"I think that sometimes we grow very weary of the long arm of the
federal government telling us what we can and cannot do, and we are at
the same time very concerned about what we see as the distraction that
is there from utensils, and innovations, and gadgets, and items in our
cars that do distract us from watching the road," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) disputed the merits of a bill endorsed by three Republican senators that would offer grant money to states which pass anti-distracted driving laws.

"While this [incentive-based] approach may be better, I do not
believe the federal government needs to have an all-out federal
program at this time," Stearns said.

Lawmakers took a purely incentive-based approach to promoting the passage of state-level mandatory seat belt laws; as a result, enforcement of those rules has proven spotty. Congress’ punitive approach to promoting state drunk driving laws, by contrast, resulted in broad compliance, with no state losing federal highway money.

Another hot topic in Energy and Commerce was the role technology might play in curbing distracted driving. Steve Largent, a former member of Congress who now heads the wireless industry’s trade group, said that he knows of "six or seven companies" working on applications that would shut down cell phones when a user attempts to activate them in a vehicle going more than five miles per hour.

2 thoughts on Distracted Driving Debate Continues in Congress as Consensus Looks Elusive

  1. Marsha Blackburn Loves Big Government HealthCare:
    Prescription Drug Benefit.
    The final version (conference report) of H.R. 1 would create a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. Beginning in 2006, prescription coverage would be available to seniors through private insurers for a monthly premium estimated at $35. There would be a $250 annual deductible, then 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250 would be reimbursed. Drug costs greater than $2,250 would not be covered until out-ofpocket expenses exceeded $3,600, after which 95 percent of drug costs would be reimbursed. Low-income recipients would receive more subsidies than other seniors by paying lower premiums, having smaller deductibles, and making lower co-payments for each prescription. The total cost of the new prescription drug benefit would be limited to the $400 billion that Congress had budgeted earlier this year for the first 10 years of this new entitlement program. The House adopted the conference report on H.R. 1 on November 22, 2003 by a vote of 220 to 215 (Roll Call 669).
    Marsha Blackburn Voted FOR this bill.
    Marsha Blackburn is my Congressman.
    See her unconstitutional votes at :

  2. When my friends send text messages to me, drivesafe.ly mobile application respond with a message I am not in a position to look at their messages. I am not distracted from what I do.

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