Congressman Deutch Introduces Legislation Promoting Tougher Laws on Texting While Driving

Today, U.S. Ted Deutch (FL-21) joined Reps. Eliot Engel (NY-16) and Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) to introduce the Distracted Driving Prevention Act of 2015. This legislation creates new incentives for states to enact tougher, more enforceable, and more effective laws against texting-while-driving and related distracted driving behaviors. The introduction of the Distracted Driving Prevention Act comes on the heels of a debate in the Florida legislature over whether to pass new legislation to reclassify the state’s ban on texting-while-driving as a primary offense. Currently, Florida is one of just a handful of states that still classifies distracted driving as a secondary offense, meaning that drivers may only be pulled over by law enforcement for primary offenses like speeding, disobeying traffic lights, and other moving violations. According to research published by the American Journal of Public Health in August 2014, states with laws that classify distracted driving as secondary offenses failed to see any significant reduction in traffic fatalities

“When drivers look down at their phones to send a text or update a Facebook status, they put themselves and everyone around them in danger,” said Rep. Deutch. “Evidence increasingly suggests that states that enact and enforce tough distracted driving laws are helping keep the eyes of drivers on the road where they belong. Unfortunately, laws in several states including Florida fail to count this dangerous behavior as a primary offense, thus rendering them virtually unenforceable. Congress has a responsibility to prevent more needless tragedies by incentivizing states to take action with tougher laws that make our roads safer and ultimately prevent more needless tragedies.”

The Distracted Driving Prevention Act of 2015 creates 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—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. 

In 2013, distracted driving caused 3,154 deaths and approximately 424,000 injuries in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  According to research conducted by the Transportation Institute at Virginia Tech, five seconds is the average time that drivers take their eyes off the road while texting. When driving at 55 mph, one would travel the length of a football field without looking at the road.