Distracted Driving, the MOST Important Transportation Issue Ever!

For big-government types in Washington, it is all about your cell phone; not, oh say, building roads and bridges or helping to alleviate traffic. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has influence over the entire transportation sector, but his biggest concern appears to be forcing states to adopt distracted driving laws.

LaHood has called distracted driving “a national epidemic,” his “biggest source of irritation” and said he regularly honks at distracted drivers on weekends in Washington.


Now, that’s not to say distracted driving isn’t dangerous; it is.  People die every year because of it, and despite the full weight of Ray LaHood’s Department of Transportation (DOT), they still do. Like most transportation issues, this would be better left to the states. Consider that 39 states have already completely banned texting while driving, 10 states have banned talking on cell phones, and 32 states have banned the use of cell phones by novice drivers.

Whether you agree with the bans or not, states don’t need their 10th amendment rights violated for something they are already handling on their own. When the federal government gets involved in coercing states to adopt federal standards, there is always a problem.

Of course, Secretary LaHood doesn’t talk about coercion; instead he claims that this is “voluntary” while also talking about “good enforcement.” Which is it? Is it voluntary or is it forced?

Some of that “enforcement” comes in the form of incentives. And by incentives, we mean your tax dollars. For example, the DOT plans to give California and Delaware $2.4 million to increase their enforcement of state ordinances against distracted driving. That’s a big incentive: “adopt these standards, and we’ll give you money.”

We’ve seen this game before with highway speed limits. And we should always ask the question about what the strings attached to that money? How are States supposed to enforce these ordinances? More police?  Is this a backdoor way to implement President Obama’s Jobs Act?

The proper role of the federal government is to remember the 10th Amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.”

Surely, forcing or coercing states into adopting distracted driving laws is a violation of the 10th Amendment. To combat this federal overreach, Representative Diane Black (R-TN) introduced a motion to instruct (MTI) conferees to support federalism and states’ rights by eliminating the federal “incentives” to force distracted driving laws.

The motion is necessary because the Senate bill, MAP21 (S.1813), contains even more distracted driving grants. Section 31101 under Subtitle A authorizes $39 million a year over the next two years for Secretary LaHood’s “enforcement” regime.

Heritage Action supports the motion to instruct and a return to federalism.

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