States to Vie for $17.5 Million in Grants to Battle Distracted Driving

Federal officials announced Wednesday the creation of a grant program providing $17.5 million to states enforcing laws against distracted driving and texting.

In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called distracted driving a “persistent and growing epidemic” that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already tried to address with several initiatives, including releasing a “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving” in June that laid out a long-term plan to combat the problem.

At least 3,092 people were killed and 416,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2010, according to the NHSTA.

The funds from the grant program will be available in fiscal year 2013.

According to the grant notice, states receiving the grants have three options for the use of at least half of the funds:
–To “educate the public through advertising” about the hazards of distracted driving
–To fund roadway signs notifying motorists about the state’s distracted driving laws
–To cover costs of law enforcement related to distracted driving laws

The other half of grant funds can go to unspecified projects related to highway safety programs.

For the first year, states eligible for the grants are required to have primary laws against texting behind the wheel or distracted driving; primary enforcement allows police to stop suspected offenders solely for that violation.

After the first year, the distracted-driving laws must also have a minimum fine for a first violation and increasing fines for repeat violations.

Last month, Idaho’s SB 1274 went into effect, which bars motorists from texting and driving and is enforced as a primary offense. Under the law, the violation is not classified as a moving violation that an insurance carrier can consider as cause to raise insurance rates on consumers who want to obtain auto insurance.

However, Ohio’s texting ban, finalized in June and going into effect on Aug. 31, is enforced as a secondary offense, meaning that police can only cite a motorist for the offense in addition to a primary offense like speeding.

Hand-held cell phone use by adult drivers is prohibited in 10 states while all drivers are prohibited from text messaging in 39 states. Most states have primary enforcement of those laws, although several enforce a mix of primary and secondary laws. For example, Maryland has secondary enforcement of hand-held cell phone use but primary enforcement of text messaging laws.

Nebraska and Virginia have secondary enforcement of both laws.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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