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Federal Government Funding Distracted Driving Enforcement

Recently federal officials announced they are creating a grant program that would provide funding to states for enforcing distracted driving and texting while driving laws. The grant program will provide $17.5 million in funding.

Ray LaHood, the U.S Transportation Secretary called distracted driving a “persistent and growing epidemic” which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already tried to address with several initiatives. Previous pushes to affect the problem include Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving, which presented a long-term plan to help combat the issue of distracted driving.

According to the NHTSA, 416,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes and a whopping 3,092 were killed in 2010, which means that 18% of injury crashes were distraction-affected crashes. Drivers under the age of 20 are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to distracted driving. In 2010, eleven percent of young drivers who were involved in a fatal crash were distracted.

All of this bad news is making distracted driving a top priority for law enforcement. 39 states currently have texting while driving laws on the books and 10 states prohibit drivers from using hand-held phones while operating a motor vehicle.

The Grant Has Requirements

The grant program will make funds available until the fiscal year 2013.

States are required to use half of the funds on the following three options:

  • Educating the public on the hazards of distracted driving through advertising.
  • Funding roadway signs, which make motorists aware of the distracted driving laws in the state.
  • Help cover the costs related to law enforcement specific to distracted driving and texting while driving.

The remaining grant money can be used for unspecified projects which relate to highway safety.

States are also required to have primary laws on the books regarding texting while driving as well as distracted driving during the first year of the grant. The required state laws must allow police to stop motorists suspected of distracted driving solely for that infraction.

During the second grant year, states must have distracted driving laws which levy minimum fines for a first infraction and increase the fines for repeat violators.

As an example of primary and secondary laws, Idaho recently enacted SB 1274 which bars drivers from texting and driving. This law is enforced as a primary offense but is not classified as a moving violation, which means that insurance companies cannot raise rates on consumers receiving a ticket.

Ohio’s ban on the other hand, which went to effect in August is only enforced as a secondary offense meaning that officers can only write a ticket for distracted driving in addition to a primary offense such as reckless driving or speeding.

The majority of states have a primary law on the books in regards to distracted driving and texting while driving but there are some that make it a secondary offense. Maryland for example, enforces texting while driving as a primary law but usage of a hand-held cell phone is a secondary offense. Virginia and Nebraska enforce both texting and hand-held laws as secondary offenses.

Federal funding is currently available for states to help enforce distracted driving laws. 

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