Last modified on Friday, 31 July 2009 10:45
Four U.S. Senators recently introduced a bill known as the ALERT Drivers Act (Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act), that would require states to ban texting or emailing while driving. The legislation got different reactions from wireless carriers, an industry group today and U.S. governors, largely due to the fact that the bill would punish states that did not bar texting or mailing while driving by taking away 25% of a state’s federal funds for each year that the state was not in compliance.
Verizon Wireless applauded the ALERT legislation and noted it had been the first to support hands-free driving laws in various states as early as 2000. "We support federal legislation to ban texting and e-mailing while driving," said Verizon’s General Counsel, Steven Zipperstein. "This approach is a logical extension of our previous breaks with other wireless companies to support statewide legislation banning texting and e-mailing while driving." Verizon lauded the four Senate bill sponsors, which includes Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagen (D-N.C.)
AT&T commented that it had not reviewed the ALERT legislation but is "supportive of legislation to prohibit texting while driving." AT&T noted that it has "long advised customers not to use a phone to send messages while driving." Sprint indicated through its spokesman, John Taylor, that it had not taken a position on the ALERT bill. Taylor said, "We're not opposed to legislation banning texting that has come before the states, but we're not sure it's effective….The goal is to stop bad behavior." He noted that Sprint has provided financial support for its Focus on Driving education initiative since 2003, which focuses on teenagers teaching each other about the hazards of driving while distracted. "We've learned that the best educator is a peer."
The American Automobile Association (AAA) and other groups have likewise focused on better driver training, as well, noting that some European countries require hundreds of hours of drivers practice before a drivers’ license can be issued, yet in some U.S. states little or no driving practice is required to get a license. The CTIA, an industry group composed of all the major wireless carriers, indicated that it supports state legislation on this matter, but did not take an official position on the ALERT legislation. The CTIA indicated that its member companies believe text messaging while driving is "incompatible with safe driving." However, the CTIA deferred to "state legislative remedies to solve this issue, because we don’t believe that simply passing a law will change behavior."
A lobbyist who works for an organization of state officials indicated that he thought the ALERT legislation would "go nowhere, since a 25% reduction in highway funds would devastate the economy, and that's not something we need right now." And a spokesperson for the U.S. Governors Highway Safety Association said it would not endorse the ALERT legislation because of the financial sanctions on states that don't have laws in place and the difficulty of enforcing such laws is huge.
The Governors Highway Safety Association did give its support for legislation by all states to ban all non-emergency use of cell phones for voice and texting for new drivers, in particular, teenaged drivers. And the group wants to be able to collect better statistical information about accidents and related cell phone use by amending crash investigation forms to include this type of information so that it can be tracked.