By on September 15, 2009

The New York Times is running an Op Ed supporting Senator Charles Schumer’s anti-texting legislation. The Alert Driver’s Act of 2009 would compel states to enact anti-texting laws—or face the loss of 25 percent of their federally-supplied highway funding. The Gray Lady starts as it means to finish: misrepresenting the truth. “A leading road safety group, the Governors Highway Safety Association, has reversed field and announced its support for state laws banning drivers from sending and receiving text messages.” No, yes and kinda. GHSA Executive Director Barbara Hasha told TTAC that the organization hadn’t reversed itself. Before now, they simply “weren’t ready to endorse” the bill. And then they read the study cited by the NYT: a July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report claiming truckers are “23 times more likely to cause a crash or near-crash than a nontexting trucker.” Why truckers? Because the stats are 10 times higher than those for car drivers. (How many truckers text vs. car drivers?) And while the GHSA is pro anti-texting laws, they are NOT in favor of Schumer’s threat to remove federal funding.

“We feel it’s common sense,” Harsha said. “The states will do it [enact the anti-texting laws] without being forced to do so.”

Hang on; why have a new law in the first place? Why not prosecute motorists who text under existing dangerous driving laws?

Harsha admits that every state in the U.S. has laws prohibiting driving while texting. Not good enough. “Passing a law raises awareness,” she insists.

I pointed out that enacting redundant laws isn’t likely to endear state governors to voters who’ve recently shown a certain, shall we say “reticence” towards governmental expansion. Perhaps a public information campaign would be a better solution?

Harsha was undeterred. “We need new laws to remind people—especially young people—about the dangers of texting while driving . . . Public information campaigns have limited impact. The best way to change behavior is through enforcement.”

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18 Comments on “Schumer’s Text Ban Blackmail Gathers Steam...”


  • avatar
    windswords

    “The best way to change behavior is through enforcement.”

    Well, then enforce the already existing laws, or is that too simple a notion for ya?

  • avatar
    Banger

    Having family in trucking all my life, and being employed in the industry as a PR writer, I can tell you: PLENTY of truckers text while driving. Companies are making it part of their company policy that all cell phones must be used with a hands-free device only. Similarly, many are mandating that their on-board information computers such as the units produced by Qualcomm to give the drivers load details, routing instructions, etc. are being “blocked” while the trucks are in gear. To use them, you have to park, put the transmission in neutral, and set the parking brakes.

    Both are good ideas. The level of enforcement of the first (no cell phones in your hands while behind the wheel of a truck) is suspect, especially where private companies are concerned. In that regard, Harsha is correct. Enforcement is the best way to impact these bad habits.

    I’ve seen similar problems with companies who mandate that their forklift operators wear a seat belt at all times. But until the company steps up and starts enforcing that “rule,” which was in truth probably placed in the company handbook solely to make OSHA happy, forklift operators will continue to ride around un-buckled.

    No amount of reminders at plant meetings, occasional horrific accidents (I’ve heard of a guy getting beheaded by a forklift tower because he leaned through the uprights– not possible if he was buckled in), threats or signage in the building will make the operators change this habit. Writing them up and letting them see their job is on the line for failure to comply, however, will get them to buckle up.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Make killing someone due to distracted driving punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison.

    Enforce it.

    See if it changes things.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Cutting 25% of state highway funding is supposed to make things safer? I guess it doesn’t matter cause they won’t have too. Anyhow, I think the best way to make things safer (in long term) is to help people mature. The thing is in a lot of ways the Government is not mature. Is Fidel Castro mature cause he is in control? I don’t where a seat belt because of the laws, I don’t learn safe driving habits cause of the law, and I don’t have a cooler with drinks in my trunk cause of the law (probably).

    I’m glad people are stepping up and challenging the Government. We need more compassionate, fair, and smart public service people. Not so many adult children who are abusing the laws themselves. Not that its all bad, but I’m tired of this patronizing shit.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    “…I’m tired of this patronizing shit.”

    Especially coming from a tax-evading shit like Schumer.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Hang on; why have a new law in the first place? Why not prosecute motorists who text under existing dangerous driving laws?

    The job description of Senators is largely that of writing new laws, i.e. legislating. So, like the man with a hammer who sees every thing as a nail, the senators see every problem as warranting a new law to correct it.

  • avatar
    Banger

    DearS:

    “I don’t where a seat belt because of the laws, I don’t learn safe driving habits cause of the law, and I don’t have a cooler with drinks in my trunk cause of the law (probably).”

    I think your sentiment is that you wear your seat belt, drive safely, and don’t drive drunk because you have common sense. But I almost read that as a flagrant disregard for the law.

    Which made me wonder: How many people do you know who really do refuse to wear seat belts, refuse to think they can do anything wrong on the roadways (e.g. everything is the OTHER motorist’s fault, not theirs) and perhaps even get behind the wheel after a beer or two based on the attitude that “The gubmint cain’t tell me what I can and cain’t do in my carruh. It’s my private property, not thayern.”

    Problem being, it’s private property which is making use of public property. But I digress.

    How many times would this anti-government type need to get ticketed for no seat belt, cutting people off, not signaling turns/lane changes, speeding, or Lord forbid drinking and driving before his behavior changed?

    I realize what is being said by many here is that a new law might not have been necessary from a purely legal point of view. But I don’t necessarily agree, on two fronts:

    1. Harsha is right about the visibility this creates, especially with young motorists. Whether or not they comply, they are more likely to know it is illegal when a new law is passed. Being in Tennessee, a state that recently banned texting-while-driving, I can attest that many of my teenage sister’s friends are acutely aware of the fact that their previous haphazard texting habit behind the wheel is now illegal and will earn them a ticket. Most have either received a warning, a ticket or know someone who has.

    2. Secondly, and what I didn’t see mentioned by anyone here, is that an anti-texting law will leave far less gray area. Would you be able to ticket someone for reckless driving if their car didn’t weave while texting? Perhaps, but the statute wouldn’t be as defined, leaving more wiggle room for the offender who was still driving with impairment– albeit perhaps on a straight stretch of road. A no-texting law effectively eliminates the ability of the motoring public to use such an excuse against the ticketing officer in court.

    When the research (here’s an easy-to-digest summary from C/D– sorry RF!) shows that texters suffer similar levels of delayed reaction and general impairment as a drunk driver, I have very little problem with legislation that seeks to deal with the texters in a similar manner to DUI offenders, only without the jail time. But even as I say that, if it can be proven that their texting behind the wheel resulted in someone’s death, then I don’t think even vehicular homicide charges should be out of the question.

    And all you government-phobes remember, the burden of proof is on the police here. It would be difficult to prove the driver was texting in most cases unless cruiser dash-cam evidence showed, say, a cell phone lit up in the night between the front seats for a few seconds while the car simultaneously weaved out of its lane. Failing that standard of evidence, the best the officer can hope for is the status quo: that a reckless driving charge sticks in court based on the evidence from his dash cam (if so equipped).

    With all that said, I will finally concur that the withholding of 25 percent of federal road funding is hokey and would be a detriment to safety, ironically in the name of safety. If Congress wants to get involved, it should just pass a national minimum version of an anti-texting bill, upon which states will have the option to pony up tougher regulation if they so choose. Sort of like minimum alcohol/tobacco purchase age, if you will.

  • avatar
    CuoreSprtv

    Banger – you making entirely too much sense!

    I can see it with my dad, he laughs at me when I tell him to buckle up in the back seat. (It was not a requirement back in the USSR) or my 18yo niece that likes to mess around with the phone while driving. All dangerous!

  • avatar
    FishTank

    Banger – well said, and a good read.

    Sally is sending a text to her friend, that reads… “Like, I’m like driving… and it’s like soooo cool hearing that Chris Brown song that’s on the radio… Rihanna soooo had it coming too…” or whatever. She hits the car ahead of her while looking down – which hits the car ahead of them. Time of impact was 2:15 – 2:18 pm as noted by both cars she hit. Her cell shows an email message started or sent at 2:13 (for argument’s sake). She tells the officer she was driving on her way from her friend Lola’s house – which is ten minutes from the accident. Allotting for any time discrepancy/window she was clearly texting since leaving her friend’s house. Throw the book at her, and get that stupid texting bitch off the road.

    AGAIN just on the drive in I passed 3 cars looking down and texting/surfing in traffic. It was stop and go, and in each case by the time they looked up there was a ten car gap between them. Not only were they screwing with traffic flow, but their hard acceleration to make up for the gap, or other traffic weaving in was a definite issue/problem to come. Make texting while driving illegal, with an automatic one-year suspension and please let us get on with our lives.

  • avatar
    njdave

    The problem with all these laws is enforcing them. The useless twits in congress pass useless laws just to try to persuade us that they are doing something. So many of them are unenforceable. Unenforceable laws aren’t just annoying, they are dangerous. Because they cause people to become used to disregarding laws. They become used to disregarding that law, and many others that inconvenience them appear to be silly and easy to ignore, too. Similar to the way laws about staying in lane and not passing on the right became much more widely broken/ignored after the 55 MPH speed limit was passed. Everyone became used to ignoring that law, nothing terrible happened to them most of the time, and they began ignoring other traffic laws that until then they had more or less obeyed.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    What a joke.

    1) I’d like to see you enforce that. Good luck.

    2) Using the “federal funds” model, the federal government can more or less set state laws as they see fit. How can this possibly be constitutional? Yes, states don’t have to accept the money, but it almost seems like a form of blackmail/bribery/entrapment (I don’t really know the subtle differences in the definitions of those words….sorry).

  • avatar
    Banger

    njdave:

    “Similar to the way laws about staying in lane and not passing on the right became much more widely broken/ignored after the 55 MPH speed limit was passed. Everyone became used to ignoring that law, nothing terrible happened to them most of the time, and they began ignoring other traffic laws that until then they had more or less obeyed.”

    Lane use laws are not hard to enforce. If you’re not passing something– i.e. just hanging out in the left lane with nobody to your right– you should be pulled over and ticketed. Too often I see Tennessee Highway Patrol cruisers running a speed trap operation, simultaneously turning a blind eye to the morons who cruise in the left lane with nary a soul in the right lane. Probably because the THP does the very same thing. All the time, as a matter of fact.

    The point of lane usage laws, as with a texting ban, is to reduce the gray area in the law. “Stay in right lane except when passing” is pretty explicit, as is “Do not use multimedia devices while driving unless able to do so with a hands-free device.”

  • avatar
    Hellcakes

    AGAIN just on the drive in I passed 3 cars looking down and texting/surfing in traffic. It was stop and go, and in each case by the time they looked up there was a ten car gap between them.

    Yeah, they should take away the licenses of those maniacs who drive without paying attention to the road in front of them. Thank goodness you were there to keep an eagle eye on those clowns the whole time.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    njdave> I’m pretty sure it’s legal to pass on the right in illinois.

    I know 294 just south of the WI/IL border has “trucks keep left” as the 2 left lanes are concrete and the right lane is asphalt.

    on 290-E here, west of Chicagoland, people merge IN FROM THE LEFT, so the fastest traffic hangs on the right…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    So explain to me how it’s appropriate to remove federal funds to punish states that decide not to go along with Washington DC on this issue? Are not the states adult enough to decide for themselves what should be illegal on the roads and all that?

    The residents of these states paid the feds tax money and it’s not right to leverage those funds in an attempt to circumvent the 10th amendment. They did this with the drinking age 20 years ago and got away with it. Tying federal highway funds to legal drinking age was a far flung argument.

    If a bridge falls down again because federal funds were withheld to fix it will they blame texting drivers somehow?
    Any state denied funds under this should not have to fork over federal gas tax money nor should it be collected. This way the state is free to raise their gas tax proportionally and finance roads themselves. Robert Byrd would have a sissy fit over this one.

  • avatar
    probert

    Well – the interstate highway system is a federal program – your government at work – so I think they do have something to say about it.

    My favorite thing is when the drivers drift in and out of their lane and when they do notice you because they’re about to hit you, they look at you like you’re the asshole.

    it used to be I could spot a drunk driver – now it’s texting, cell phone, or a BMW.

  • avatar
    Banger

    G650G:

    “The residents of these states paid the feds tax money and it’s not right to leverage those funds in an attempt to circumvent the 10th amendment. They did this with the drinking age 20 years ago and got away with it.”

    No, it’s not right to do away with the federal highway funds the states are due. See my suggestion above to impose a minimum federal law, which can be beefed up at the states’ discretion. No need to bring the federal fuel tax revenues into the equation.

    And by the way, try running for Congress on the platform that you’re going to “reinstate our 10th Amendment Rights to sovereignty” in your state. Tell voters you’re going to seek to abolish the federal minimum drinking age requirement because you think states ought to be able to let their minors drink hard liquor if that’s what their voters choose. Sure, the liquor lobby will probably give you some nice campaign contributions, but good luck getting voters–most of them parents of said minors– on-board with that.

    Pragmatism is a great thing. To me, it’s actually a benefit when a pragmatic federal government steps in and imposes national regulation when (1) there is presence of a substantial public safety, health or welfare issue, and (2) there is an absence of relatively standardized regulation among the states to curb that issue. Sure, maybe someday all states will have a patchwork of generally similar laws and regulations about texting while driving (TWD), but how long will it take to get there? How many more civilians would have to die in traffic collisions caused by texting before we reached that point?

  • avatar
    Banger

    Robstar:

    “on 290-E here, west of Chicagoland, people merge IN FROM THE LEFT, so the fastest traffic hangs on the right…’

    As Hank Hill would say, “That’s just asinine!”

    That situation would drive me insane on the daily commute. Glad the worst I have to put up with is a non-limited access 65 mph divided highway with the occasional dangerous crossroad.


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