Traffic Safety

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard in March signed legislation to make his state the 43rd one to ban texting while driving. The new law, which will take effect July 1, prohibits drivers from using any handheld wireless device to write, send or read text messages or emails while the vehicle is in motion.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is a significant public safety concern for state leaders and law enforcement. Although 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans that prohibit texting while driving, driver distraction is a leading factor in nearly one-fifth of all fatal crashes.

In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Seven years later, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, driver distraction is a leading factor in many crashes and texting is one of the most common distractions.

August 29 now appears to be the "drop dead date" for Congressional action to avert a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, the U.S. Department of Transportation said this week. Meanwhile, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hit the road to make the case for infrastructure investment as state officials from around the country continued to talk about the impact of federal uncertainty on their projects. I also have my usual roundup of items on state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced this week they have agreed in principle on how to proceed with the next federal surface transportation authorization bill, the successor to 2012’s MAP-21. I also have the usual roundup of links on the future of the Highway Trust Fund, state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and we have a new Capitol Research brief just out looking at “Enforcement of Texting While Driving Bans.” It examines the state of anti-texting statutes and recent legislative efforts around the country, as well as the efforts of law enforcement to assess strategies for catching texters in the act. But here’s a roundup of some additional related resources from around the web.

Laws in forty-two states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit texting behind the wheel by all drivers. The eight states without such laws have all seen efforts in recent years to follow suit. Four of the states with texting bans have secondary enforcement statutes requiring an officer to catch the driver in another traffic offense. Two of those states have seen legislation introduced this year to move up to primary enforcement, where an officer can ticket a driver solely for texting while driving. But even as states are trying to crack down on texting, some in law enforcement question the degree to which such laws can be enforced and the degree to which they can be successful. 

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week looking at Autonomous Vehicle Legislation. It examines how states like Michigan are preparing for the advent of self-driving cars and what kinds of legislative issues state governments are going to need to think about down the road as the industry gets going over the next decade. I encourage you to check it out. But I also wanted to pass along a variety of other resources where you can read more on the subject.

Autonomous vehicles—self-driving cars—hold the promise to one day change the very nature of travel in the United States. For the moment, they remain mostly in the realm of science fiction, although significant developments are expected over the next decade. In 2013, Michigan became the latest state - joining California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia - to enact legislation to allow automakers and others to continue to conduct autonomous vehicle research. But even as the industry and states contemplate a future for such vehicles beyond the research and development stage, some question whether these types of legislation may be premature while we still know so little about exactly what that future will look like.

Alaska lawmakers are considering asking voters to create a state infrastructure fund that would help pay for airport, road and other projects around the state. Meanwhile, Connecticut and Kansas are among the states with similar trust funds that are looking to prevent future raids on those funds when times are tight. I also have my usual weekly round-up of items this week on the future of the Highway Trust Fund and MAP-21 reauthorization, state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships, and multi-modal strategies being employed in various states and communities around the country.

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