Capitol Comments

Voters went to the polls yesterday for state and local elections around the nation. Despite the fact that turnout is generally lower in off years, several states had important initiatives on their ballots allowing citizens to determine the future of policies directly. Jennifer Horn covered these Monday in her 2013 preview.

There are now more cellphone subscriptions than people in the United States.  Cell phones were involved in 23 percent of all automobile collisions in 2011 contributing to the 3,331 distracted driving deaths that year. Since the first texting ban was issued in Washington State in 2007, 40 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have initiated laws banning texting while driving. As a part of MAP-21, the 2012 surface transportation authorization legislation, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) administers a grant program to states which have such bans. The grants are not a sure thing for states however; of the 38 applicants, the DOT reported earlier this month that only 7 states and Guam will receive funding this year.

The tech industry waited with bated breath last year as rumors formed surrounding tech giant Google’s anticipated release of a hands-free computer which could fit in a pair of glasses and project information into consumers eyes. The product, Google Glass, launched a kind of beta version in May allowing a limited number of “explorers” to test drive the product as the bugs are worked out. The product received mixed reviews from the tech world and met with privacy concerns once some individuals realized that they could be filmed without their knowledge thanks to the technology. Now as some automakers are attempting to integrate Google Glass into the operation of certain vehicles, some state lawmakers are considering banning the technology from  the nation’s roads.

Pedestrian fatalities rose for two consecutive years between 2009 and 2011, according to a report this month from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking action to prevent what may or may not be a trend from continuing. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx used one of his first press conferences  since taking office to address the NHTSA data and to announce a new grant program and website which could give states and communities the tools they need to save lives.

Three million jobs and the safety and mobility of drivers could be at stake if Congress fails to address an impending shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). That’s what Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee told her colleagues in a letter last week. Also passing along a state-by-state breakdown of the potential job losses, Boxer along with Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Tim Johnson wrote that “simply put, the economy of our nation is at stake.” The HTF, which is funded by the federal gas tax, provides states with federal funding for surface transportation projects. MAP-21, the surface transportation authorization bill approved by Congress last year, failed to address the long-term solvency of the trust fund and the long-term future of the gas tax.