The risks and dangers associated with distracted driving has become a growing safety concern among drivers everywhere. Deemed as an epidemic, this issue has certainly been recognized by the federal government.
A national summit on the issue held in September 2010 led to the development of safety-driven federal grant program aimed at helping make roads throughout the nation safer. The program is an incentive for state governments because it provides additional subsidies to effectively enact and enforce texting and cell phone restrictions. The program allocates federal dollars to states that ban texting and place restrictions on hand-held cell phone use, with increased restrictions on drivers under the age of 18.
More than half of US states have a primary ban on texting for all drivers and hand-held device restrictions for drivers under the age of 18. Florida is not one of these states, as the texting ban is currently only a secondary offense for all drivers with no other restrictions in place.
The federal grant program was initiated in 2011 and will distribute funds to help defray the states’ costs of educating drivers, spreading awareness and paying law enforcement for the expansion and extra man-hours needed to enforce the bans. In a time where tax dollar spending is always under high scrutiny, many are stumped of Florida’s failure to implement bans in a timely manner in order to qualify for federal assistance geared towards driver safety and easing the burden on the state budget.
According to the grant’s Background narrative:
“In 2010, there were nearly 33,000 motor-vehicle related deaths on our Nation’s highways. Driving while distracted is a deadly habit that contributes to a significant portion of that total, with 3,000 lives lost in crashes where distraction was a factor. The epidemic of distracted driving is one of our greatest highway safety challenges.
On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21), Public Law 112-141, which created a new distracted driving grant program. MAP-21 authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to provide incentive grants to States that enact and enforce laws prohibiting distracted driving. MAP-21 authorizes funding beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2013.”
In order to qualify for a Distracted Driving Grant:
“A state must have enacted and be enforcing a statute that meets all the requirements set out in Section 405(e), as outlined below:
(1) Prohibition on texting while driving. The State statute must
(a) Prohibit drivers from texting through a personal wireless communications device while driving;
(b) Make violation of the statute a primary offense; and
(c) Establish (i) a minimum fine for a first violation of the statute; and (ii) increased fines for repeat violations.
(2) Prohibition on youth cell phone use while driving.”
The grant terms stipulate:
“That each State that receives a Section 405(e) grant must use at least 50 percent of the grant funds:
(1) To educate the public through advertising containing information about the dangers of texting or using a cell phone while driving;
(2) For traffic signs that notify drivers about the distracted driving law of the State; or
(3) For law enforcement costs related to the enforcement of the distracted driving law.
The remaining grant funds, but no more than 50 percent, may be used for any eligible project or activity.”
The grant program appears notably simple and non-restrictive. Drivers in Florida can only hope that federal funds are still available once state legislators are able to strengthen the existing laws to eventually meet the eligibility requirements.