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Senate Bill Aimed at Inspiring Texting-While-Driving Bans

October 14, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has written a bill that would give federal funds to states that enact laws banning driving while texting or talking on a hand-held device. 

Rockefeller's legislation takes a different approach than a punitive bill, introduced in July by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), which would require states to prohibit texting while driving or risk losing federal highway funds. 

Rockefeller has scheduled a hearing on his legislation in two weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported. His proposal comes at a time when the Obama administration and traffic safety advocates are pushing harder for bans on texting and talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. 

"We all know that the explosion of cell phone use and texting during the past few years has brought distracted driving to a new level of danger for all Americans on the road," Rockefeller said in a statement. "The rising numbers of deaths and injuries are alarming." 

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) is cosponsoring the bill. 

The bill specifies that to qualify for the funds, states must enact laws that fine drivers a minimum of $200 for texting and $100 for talking on a hand-held phone. In addition, states would have to prohibit all use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 18. 

The federal funds, totaling $60 million over two years, would come from an existing program aimed at encouraging seat belt laws. States could use the money to pay for traffic safety projects. The federal government would also spend as much as $24 million on nationwide distracted-driving campaigns, the L.A. Times reported. 

The new bill comes just weeks after the Obama administration hosted a conference focused on distracted driving. At that event, Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood announced a rule prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving.

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