WASHINGTON — States would be required to ban driving while texting or face the loss of highway funds under legislation being pushed by a group of Democratic senators.
Aimed at reducing driver distraction and highway deaths and injuries, the proposal follows a series of studies showing the dangers of drivers taking their eyes off the road to operate the handheld electronic devices.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal.
“The federal government ought to pass a law banning this dangerous and growing practice to protect the millions of Americans on our nation’s roads. It is a matter of public safety,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who was to unveil the legislation Wednesday along with Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
In a study released earlier this week, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. Dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device increased risk of collision about six times in cars and trucks.
The Virginia Tech researchers said the risks of texting generally applied to all drivers, not just truckers.
The legislation would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. It would be patterned after the way the Congress required states to adopt a national drunken driving ban.
The transportation secretary would be required to issue guidelines within six months of the measure being signed into law, and states then would have two years to approve the bans on texting and driving.
States could recover highway funds by passing the legislation following the two-year period.
The bill would target the activity in a moving vehicle and not prohibit a driver from texting or e-mailing in a stopped car.