Washington, D.C. – Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), along with Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), have introduced the Distracted Driving Prevention Act (H.R. 2154). This bill would amend the process of granting money to states that have passed statutes to address distracted driving.
“In this new age of pocket technology, we have the ability to receive and disseminate information within seconds. However, a few seconds of texting makes a driver three times more likely to be in an accident. Young and inexperienced drivers are at an increased risk, as they make up the majority of distraction-related fatal crashes. In California, I co-authored legislation to ban texting and the use of handheld devices. We must do more to incentivize states to pass similar laws to create safe roads for drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” said Congressman DeSaulnier (CA-11).
On average, texting while driving requires a person to take his or her eyes off the road for five seconds. This means that if someone is driving at 55 MPH, he or she would have driven the entire length of a football field without looking at the road. In 2011, 17 percent of accidents – almost one in five – that resulted in injury involved driver distraction.
Specifically, the legislation seeks to create new safety benchmarks for states looking to obtain grant funding, while simultaneously lowering administrative barriers to grant money. Distracted driver grants can be used to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving, traffic signs to notify the public about distracted driving laws, law enforcement costs related to enforcement of distracted driving laws, and other highway safety projects.
In order to be eligible for distracted driving grants, states will have had to pass statutes that:
- Prohibit drivers from texting while driving;
- Prohibit handheld cell phone use (i.e., talking on a handheld phone) while driving;
- Allow a driver to use a hands-free device—other than a driver under the age of 18 who will not have hands-free capabilities—to initiate, conduct or receive telephone calls;
- Make violations of the statute primary offenses; and
- Establish a minimum penalty for the first violation of the statute and increased penalties for repeat violations.
The Distracted Driving Prevention Act would also require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish a research program to study distracted driving, by examining driver behavior, vehicle technology, and portable electronic devices that are commonly brought into vehicles. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) would also be required to report to Congress on data and wireless communications technology, as well as authority that the FCC can use to assist in understanding and reducing distracted driving.
Congressman DeSaulnier was a co-author of the California law, which banned texting while driving and the use of handheld devices. Currently, 14 states have laws prohibiting the use of handheld cell phones while driving, including California and New York.