Written by Joel D. Feldman
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced the Safe Drivers Act of 2011 which will prohibit drivers on public roads from using any handheld mobile device while behind the wheel. Hands-free or voice-activated devices would remain acceptable, as would the use of handheld phones in cases of emergency. The proposed legislation also requires the Department of Transportation to conduct a study of distracted driving and, within two years, to recommend a standard of minimum penalties for the offense. States that refused to comply with this standard in a timely manner would have a portion of their highway funding withheld. This penalty is modeled after the current DUI federal blood alcohol standards.
Currently, distracted driving laws vary from state to state with Pennsylvania and seven other states having no laws limiting cell phone use-calls or texting- while driving and eight states, including New York, New Jersey and California, prohibiting hand held cell phone use while driving. Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cite New York drivers use of cell phones declining by more than 40% after legislation banning handheld use was passed in 2001.
Rep. McCarthy is to be applauded for her taking the lead in this important fight. Since there is such variance in individual state’s willingness to pass necessary legislation and , variance between states that have passed legislation, perhaps the only way all citizens will be protected is if federal legislation is passed.