Stop Texting-Drivers—or Lose Highway Funds
The Senate should pass the ALERT Drivers Act of 2009 (known in long form as the “Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act”), which would require states to adopt penalties against people who text while driving—or forfeit 25% of highway financing. Pro or con?
ALERT Act Will Save Lives
Distracted drivers come in all forms, but none are more dangerous than the ones who divert their eyes from the road to type text messages. The consequences of texting while driving can be horrific, dealing death and serious injury to both drivers and to the innocent victims in their path.
Given the implicit danger and growing popularity of texting while driving, we must act in the name of driver and occupant safety—an area in which Congress has an impressive track record. Advancements in seat belt use, drunk driving reforms, and other safety measures are largely attributable to ALERT-type laws that pressured states to prioritize between a driver’s individual liberties and the greater public good. The result? Safer roadways and fewer fatalities.
There is broad public support for outlawing texting while driving. The results of a national survey commissioned by Ford and released on Sept. 25 showed that 93% of U.S. drivers support a nationwide ban, and 86% believe that handheld texting while driving is “very dangerous.” Even the wireless telecommunications industry supports state bans on texting while driving. Verizon Wireless (VZ) and the American Trucking Assn. back the ALERT bill.
If states do not respond to the overwhelming evidence that texting while driving is dangerous and should be banned, there will be consequences. By withholding substantial federal funds, the ALERT legislation imposes a compelling incentive for states to outlaw texting while driving.
Federal involvement in this issue is politically responsible. As it relates to national highway safety, the ALERT bill is not just what we expect—it is what we deserve.
Con: The Act Needs Revision First
GHSA does not support the current version of the Alert Drivers Act of 2009—legislation that would require states to adopt laws prohibiting texting while driving or lose 25% of highway funds—as we feel states should be encouraged to pass texting bans with the carrot of financial incentives, not the stick of a sanction. In fact, this is a terrible time to consider reducing highway funding given the economic necessity of these dollars in the states. Additionally, 18 states have already passed these bans, with the majority of them having acted in 2009. We expect at least 30 more states will act in the next two years—all without federal intervention.
There are a number of other things the federal government can do to address texting while driving:
• Fund research to develop effective methods for enforcing texting and cell-phone bans. While a number of states currently have banned texting, enforcing such bans has proven difficult. Additional study of the effectiveness of state bans is needed.
• Sponsor research to determine the nature and scope of the distracted driving problem. It is very difficult to ascertain the entirety of the problem given that the public is unlikely to readily admit guilt in a crash investigation. Special studies are needed using subpoenaed phone records to determine the involvement of phoning or texting in a crash.
• Fund a media campaign to alert the public to the dangers of distracted driving. This effort is needed to help develop a culture that will make the practice socially unacceptable, similar to the way drunk driving has come to be perceived by the vast majority of the public.