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Federal Funding Could Be Key To Distracted Driving Laws

When asked in a survey, 94 percent of drivers acknowledged that texting behind the wheel is dangerous. That survey, conducted in 2011, was one of the first to identify a serious problem in targeting distracted driving. While admitting the practice was dangerous, one-third of survey respondents indicated that they had texted while driving in previous month. They knew it was dangerous, but they did it anyway. Awareness campaigns and data indicated an increase in fatal car accidents caused by distracted driving do not seem to be enough. The question is, what can states do to get drivers to put down their phones?

The federal government is hoping to help states cross that divide by providing funding to states that taken certain measures against texting behind the wheel. To qualify for funds under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, states must make distracted driving a primary offense, ban texting even while a driver is stopped at a traffic light, allow police to fine texters for a first offense, provide escalated fines for later offenses, and, finally, add distracted driving issues to the driver's license exam.

The vast majority of states now have laws against texting and driving. The holdouts may be inspired to act with the promise of federal dollars to help pay for enforcement costs. With a few tweaks, many states could qualify for the federal funding by the end of the year.

Perhaps the largest impact for drivers will be the laws making texting behind the wheel a primary offense. Primary offenses can cost a driver points on his or her driver's license and lead to higher insurance costs. The law would make texting behind the wheel cheaper for states to enforce and more expensive for drivers to do. That combination could easily help drivers move from understanding that texting and driving is dangerous to choosing not to engage in the behavior at all.

Source: Fox Business, "Money is Weapon in war on Texting," by Mark Vellet, 3 June 2013

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