Senators: Ban Texting While Driving or Lose Highway Funds

Published October 1, 2009

In the wake of a new study on the dangers of texting while driving, four Democratic senators propose compelling states to ban the practice or lose a huge chunk of federal highway funds.

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found truck drivers who send text messages or emails on their cell phones while they drive are 23 times more likely to crash.


In July Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act (ALERT Drivers Act). It would require all 50 states to adopt a ban on texting and e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle.

States that did not adopt a ban within two years of the legislation being passed into law would risk losing one-fourth of their annual federal highway funding.

Vernon F. Betkey Jr., chairman of the Governors’ Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said he has read the Transportation Institute’s report and believes the issue needs more study before passing federal legislation.

“GHSA has never doubted the dangers of cell phone use and texting while driving,” Betkey said. “The association focuses on a ‘no-use’ message and seeks to restore some common sense to driving.

However, GHSA has not yet supported a complete ban on the practice because of the difficulty of enforcing such laws,” Betkey said.

“Texting does not have to be spelled out to be illegal,” said Robin Nolan, president of McDavid Public Relations in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It is considered reckless driving already.

“Even though it is terrifying how blatant people are about texting while driving, and how dangerous it is, the government needs to stay out of micromanaging our lives,” Nolan said.

‘Slippery Slope’

Moses Sanchez, an adjunct professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, said the senators’ proposal is vulnerable to the “slippery slope” argument.

“Where does it really end? Has texting, which is a distraction, caused more accidents than eating, drinking, or even putting on your makeup?” Sanchez asked. “What about the ridiculous billboard ads in Times Square or other major traffic areas? Are these forms of distractions next to be addressed?”

Celeste Altus ([email protected]) writes from Martinez, California.

For more information …

“New data from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute provides insight into cell phone use and driving distraction,” Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2009: