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Public Statements

Motion to Instruct Conferees on H.R. 4348, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ALTMIRE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I rise in opposition to the motion.

The motion offered by the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Black) seeks to eliminate a distracted driving grant program included in the Senate surface

transportation authorization bill. I oppose this motion because it ignores the significant safety hazard that distracted driving poses to drivers, commuters, passengers, and pedestrians.

Distracted driving is any activity behind the wheel that takes a driver's attention away from the road. The rapid development and ubiquitous use of technology such as cell phones, smart phones, and in-vehicle touch screens has made routine distraction an almost commonplace occurrence in every vehicle across America.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 more than 3,000 Americans were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and approximately 416,000 additional Americans were injured.

Distractions from technology can include texting, talking on a phone, or using a navigation system or other audio or visual equipment while in a vehicle. But because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver all at the same time, it is by far the most dangerous distraction.

The Wireless Association reported that in June 2011 more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States, which is up nearly 50 percent from just 2 years ago over the same period. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also reported that more than 100,000 drivers are texting and more than 600,000 drivers are using cell phones at any given moment in time. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's attention from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which, while it may not seem like a long time, it's the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field, taking the driver's eyes off the road. It's not surprising that, according to research done by Virginia Tech, a texting driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-distracted driver.

The proposed grant program in the Senate bill is an opportunity to address the rapidly growing problem of distracted driving and to educate the driving public about the real and immediate dangers of distraction behind the wheel.

Mr. Speaker, thousands of American lives are at stake. And these are not statistics. These are people--like 21-year-old Casey Feldman, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver as she crossed the street in Ocean City, New Jersey in 2009. It's people like 56-year-old John Sligting, who was killed on his motorcycle when a teen driver talking on her cell phone missed a stop sign in June 2007. It's people like 13-year-old Margay Schee, who was killed on her school bus when a distracted driver rear-ended that bus in September 2008.

Although some on the other side of the aisle are skeptical of seemingly every Federal program, we must avoid the temptation to eliminate programs without considering the real impacts they have on the lives of our constituents and on communities all across America.

To the point the gentlewoman, my friend from Tennessee (Mrs. Black), raised in her opening remarks, the distracted driving grant program contained in the Senate bill is merely an incentive program, not mandatory. It's an incentive for States that have already passed laws and have them on the books. Therefore, there are no sanctions if States do not pass laws or participate. There are no penalties to not participate.

So, Mr. Speaker, to put it simply, this motion represents a giant step backwards in highway safety for all of America.

I urge my colleagues to reject this motion to instruct, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. ALTMIRE. We have no further speakers. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

The previous speaker talks about States being the innovators. I certainly agree on that.

This motion that we are talking about right now involves a State incentive program where States can qualify for Federal money for an optional grant that they may choose to participate in or not. If they do not choose to participate, they are free to pass any distracted-driver laws they wish or not. There is nothing in what is contained in the Senate bill that in any way inhibits or prohibits or disincentivizes States from passing their own distracted-driving laws. They are still free to do whatever they want to do and go as far or not as they want to go.

All the Senate language says is that if States choose to meet the higher Federal standards, they may qualify for potential limited grant money that will be made available. No State is sanctioned for not participating.

With that, I continue to reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. ALTMIRE. Yielding myself as much time as I would consume, I would, again, make the point that the program in question in no way sanctions, penalizes, disincentivizes, discourages or prohibits States from, in any way, addressing driver safety. It in no way prohibits States from being innovative, from creating new technologies, new programs, doing things that are not recommended in the bill or this program. States are free to do whatever they want to do on this issue.

So to continually pound away at the point that we're somehow taking away the ability of States to be flexible is simply incorrect. It's not consistent with the program in question. It's not consistent with the language of the bill we are discussing.

With that, I would inquire of my friend--I have no more speakers on our side--is she prepared to close?

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Mr. ALTMIRE. Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to oppose the motion.

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