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Public Statements

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, my amendment underscores the point that we need to be doing more, not less, to combat the dangerous habit of distracted driving on our Nation's roadways.

Earlier this evening, we voted on a motion to instruct conferees on the highway bill to reject the Senate's bipartisan proposal to partner with the States on prevention strategies, and the bill before us now provides no additional funds to address what Transportation Secretary LaHood has identified as an epidemic in this country. Traffic accidents caused by distracted driving are on the rise in communities everywhere in this country.

In my home county, our police department in Fairfax County reported a 48 percent increase in the number of citations issued for distracted driving in the last year. A recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute points out 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes have involved driver distraction. Nationally, the Department of Transportation reports that more than 416,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2010. Tragically, Mr. Chairman, 3,100 of those people were killed.

According to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey, 94 percent of respondents recognized the risks of talking, texting, or emailing while driving and said such activities are unacceptable. And 87 percent said they supported laws against reading, typing, or sending text messages while driving. Yet more than one-third of those same drivers reported they still read or send texts or email while driving. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 drivers are texting and that more than 600,000 are using their cell phones at any given time on our Nation's roadways.

Sending or receiving texts diverts one's attention from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. While that may not seem like a long time, at 55 miles per hour, it is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field without paying attention to the road. A report from the University of Utah goes so far as to say that using a cell phone to talk or text delays a driver's reaction time just as much as having a blood alcohol level of .08, the legal limit.

I congratulate the 39 States, the District of Columbia, and Guam for taking steps to ban text messaging for all drivers, but the force of these laws varies. In my home State of Virginia, for example, it is a secondary offense, so drivers cannot be pulled over or cited unless they're breaking some other law deemed more serious. That's why we need to beef up prevention efforts, particularly among younger drivers, Mr. Chairman.

I hosted a teen driving summit when I was chairman of Fairfax County a few years ago. Distracted driving is the number one killer of teen drivers in America. Alcohol-related accidents among teens has, thankfully, dropped. Teenage traffic fatalities have remained virtually unchanged, however, as a result of the growth of accidents caused by the distraction from texting or talking on the phone. What is shocking is that 35 percent of teens who talk or text while they're behind the wheel actually do not think they'll get hurt.

I hear my colleagues talk about their support for traffic safety and about efforts to discourage distracted driving, but I don't see any tangible actions to address this challenge in each of our communities.

In his blueprint for ending distracted driving, Secretary LaHood endorses efforts to work with the automakers to apply technology being marketed to block cells while one is in motion or to improve crash warning and driver monitoring systems to prevent accidents caused by distracted driving. The Secretary has also proposed partnering with States on tougher prevention efforts and public awareness campaigns.

Mr. Chairman, in today's mobile device-driven society, distracted driving is quickly becoming our greatest obstacle to ensuring safety on our Nation's roadways, and it will only get worse. I urge my colleagues to support this simple amendment. It's a modest transfer of funds from an administrative account to increase distracted driving research and prevention efforts. This will save lives.

Recently, there was a tragic accident in Iowa of a young lady who was driving while texting, which caused an accident and a fatality. In my home county of Fairfax, when I was chairman, I remember having to talk to the grieving parents of a young woman who had been texting while driving and who wrapped herself around a tree and died a few short blocks from her home. Looking in the face of a parent and having to explain why that could have been prevented is something I hope none of my colleagues ever have to do. I plead with my colleagues on the other side to accept this amendment and to save teenage lives.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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