Last year Congress passed a law that would give grant money to states that enacted tough texting-while-driving laws. States were thrilled to see a new pool of money for the taking and 38 states applied for a share of the funding. Earlier this week the Department of Transportation announced that only seven states, including Georgia, would receive the money, a development that left legislators in the other 31 surprised and more than a little irritated.
The concern over the dangers of texting and driving is what sparked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to create the grant program. It was the prospect of seeing federal handouts that then helped drive a national effort to enact bans on texting-while-driving. However, at the time states were passing their own laws no one realized that a difference in definition would end up foiling many of their efforts at claiming the grant money.
Many people initially believed that so long as a state enacted a primary texting ban (meaning the police could pull a driver over simply for texting and not need another excuse to make the traffic stop) then that would be enough to qualify for the grant. Thirty-eight states passed primary laws yet only seven received money. According to the DOT, the problem boiled down to a conflict in the definitions of the terms “driving” and “texting.” Those states that happened to define the words in the same way as the federal government walked away with cash, while those that did not were left empty-handed.
Of the 31 states who were denied funding, a majority defined “texting” as simply sending or receiving SMS texts while behind the wheel. Congressional legislation had a much broader definition, saying that “texting” referred to not only SMS texting and emailing, but also including activities such as surfing the web behind the wheel. Some of the states that were denied money also made the mistake of only including smart phones under the list of banned electronic devices, while Congress specifically mentioned tablet computers.
Another issue that caused states to be bounced was that some defined “driving” to mean only those times where the car was in motion. This created a loophole that permitted drivers to text while their cars were stopped at a stop light, something the DOT did not approve of. The Congressional definition of “driving” bans texting even when the car is temporarily stopped.
Though several nearby states are currently licking their wounds, with transportation officials in Kentucky and North Carolina complaining about the decision, Georgia officials are thrilled with the DOT award. Georgia walked away with $1.6 million grant after implementing a strict ban in 2010. The backers of that piece of legislation were careful to make sure the ban on texting existed even in cases where a person was stopped in traffic, saying they hoped it would give law enforcement officials another chance to stop dangerous drivers. It turns out their efforts really did pay off.
As Georgia car accident attorneys who routinely handle complicated cases, we are able to offer experienced advice regarding your legal options in such a situation. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident or truck wreck because of the carelessness of another driver, call the personal injury attorneys at Pope McGlamry P.C. today to schedule a free consultation.
Source: “States lose out on federal distracted driving grants,” by Larry Copeland, published at USAToday.com.
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