House Republicans late Wednesday night defeated an amendment by Congressman Gerry Connolly to increase federal support for efforts to reduce the growing carnage on the nation's highways due to distracted driving.
"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," Connolly said during House floor debate on the Transportation funding bill.
Connolly's distracted driver amendment increased funding for prevention, public awareness campaigns about the dangers of texting while driving, and research. The measure was revenue neutral, offset by eliminating an increase in funding for a Department of Transportation administrative account.
Distracted driving is the number one killer of teens in the U.S. A recent Virginia Tech study showed that nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes involved driver distraction. Transportation Secretary LaHood calls it a growing epidemic.
Connolly said 416,000 people were injured in distracted driving-related accidents in 2010, and nearly 3,100 were killed in crashes caused by distracted drivers. "Traffic accidents caused by distracted driving are on the rise in communities across the nation," he said, pointing out that Fairfax County police reported a 48 percent increase in distracted driving tickets issued between 2010 and 2011.
"At any given moment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 drivers are texting and more than 600,000 others are using their cell phones on our nation's roadways," Connolly said, calling them "accidents waiting to happen."
Connolly said there is a need to beef up prevention programs, particularly for younger drivers. "Distracted driving is the number one killer of American teens," said Connolly, who hosted a teen driving summit when he was Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "While alcohol-related accidents among teens have thankfully dropped, teenage traffic fatalities have remained virtually unchanged due to increased accidents caused by distractions from texting or talking on the phone."
The Virginia Congressman called his amendment "a down payment on what should be a meaningful, ongoing effort to address the dangers of distracted driving and increase safety on our roads. In today's mobile device-driven society, distracted driving is quickly becoming our greatest obstacle to ensuring safety on our nation's roadways. 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 amendment was defeated 222-175. All but 10 House Republicans voted against the measure.