FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 30, 2009
SCHUMER URGES OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO ENDORSE TOUGH PENALTIES FOR STATES THAT FAIL TO IMPOSE TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING BANS
WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) today urged the Obama administration to endorse tough penalties for states that refuse to impose bans on texting while driving, as proposed under legislation Schumer offered in July. Schumer, in remarks made at the Transportation Department’s distracted driving summit, said that while the administration has supported the concept of such a ban, it has so far stopped short of specifically endorsing Schumer’s bill due to concerns about the sanctions that would befall states that fail to comply with a federal ban.
“A federal law that does not impose penalties for failing to act would be toothless. It would fall well short of curbing this dangerous epidemic. It would hardly be any better than no law at all,” Schumer said in remarks at the summit. “The fact is, the federal government cannot, by itself, outlaw texting while driving. Only states can. But the federal government can make it hard for those states that don’t go along.”
Schumer’s bill—known as the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act (“ALERT Drivers” Act)—would require states to bar the sending of text or email messages while operating a car or truck or light rail, or else risk losing federal highway funds. Within six months of the bill’s passage, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will establish minimum penalties that must be contained within the state law. States then have two years to pass compliant bans or else risk losing 25% of their annual federal highway finding per year that they fail to comply with the law. States that comply after the two-year deadline can retroactively recover lost highway funds.
Schumer announced he was sending a letter to LaHood seeking the administration’s support for his specific legislation, complete with its tough enforcement mechanisms to ensure states’ compliance.
Schumer’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Kay Hagan (D-NC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).