Distracted Drivers Cause Accidents, So Texting Must Stop

We must act to benefit all motorists, argues Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.

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Carolyn McCarthy is a New York Democrat serving in her seventh term in the House of Representatives.

As a member of Congress, I work to pass comprehensive, common-sense legislation that will benefit average Americans. With the same fervor I had when I was first sworn in to office in 1997, I seek common ground on issues that I believe will make our country stronger and safer each and every day. I had always known of the dangers of distracted driving, and it should come as no surprise to the American public that when drivers are preoccupied with tasks that take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel, it most certainly creates unsafe and potentially fatal scenarios on the roadways.

On the heels of extended national coverage regarding the increased incidence of distracted driving, I was shocked to learn that only a handful of states ban texting and driving. It was with this in mind that I was proud to introduce, along with my colleague, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, H.R. 3535, the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act, a bill that would set in place guidelines that would lead to a nationwide ban on writing, sending, or reading text messages while operating a moving vehicle.

Today, we are all fully adept in multitasking. With the advent of "smart" devices that provide access to E-mail, text messaging, the Internet, and more, individuals are becoming increasingly reliant upon mobile technology in their everyday lives. Frankly, it is rare to walk a few blocks without seeing someone using a hand-held device while performing another task. These devices have their benefits; I myself own one, and much like the countless mobile users across the country, I have seen it evolve into a nearly indispensable device that keeps me abreast of important developments in real time.

Unfortunately, as these devices continue to evolve and become more affordable, their inappropriate and unsafe use continues to grow as well. I firmly believe that there is a time and place to be texting, but one situation where there is no excuse to be manipulating a hand-held device is while operating a moving vehicle.

Almost as rapidly as these devices have developed, so, too, have hands-free and voice-activated technologies, each of which is designed to give individuals increased mobility and attentiveness while communicating. In line with this, the legislation that I introduced would exempt the use of voice-activated and vehicle-integrated devices. Explicitly, the bill directs the secretary of transportation to establish minimum texting-while-driving standards of protection that state legislatures must meet, while also allowing states to establish stricter standards as they see fit. And much like the laws that established the legal age to consume alcohol and blood-alcohol concentration limits for drivers, the bill would withhold a percentage of federal highway funding from those states that do not comply.

Not surprisingly, a recent CBS News/New York Times poll concluded that 90 percent of adults believe texting while driving should be illegal. This overwhelming majority included men and women from across the nation and did not indicate any political bias. Promoting and setting forth an agenda that improves roadway safety rises above political ideology. Whether one is a novice or experienced driver, actions that lead to diverting one's eyes from the roadway and hands from the steering wheel can, and often do, lead to roadway accidents.

It is hard to dispute the realities of distracted driving. In a study published this summer, Virginia Tech University found that drivers are 23 times as likely to get into an accident while texting. Another study, published by Car and Driver magazine in June, concluded that texting while driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving. Other studies of distracted driving have yielded similar results.

While the problem of texting while driving has been recognized across the country, questions and concerns arise over implementation and enforcement. Recently, the Department of Transportation held a two-day summit in Washington dedicated to vetting ideas, studies, and policies relating to distracted driving. I appreciate and commend Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for his commitment to the cause and believe that the summit and other forums of open discussion can yield only positive results both by educating the public and by setting forth sound policy initiatives. Similarly, I commend President Barack Obama, who, in signing an executive order, effectively banned all federal employees from texting while driving on the job or behind the wheel of a federal vehicle. Both initiatives represent important steps toward cultivating safety on our nation's roadways but fall short of applying these safety precautions to each and every American driver.