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Senate GOP Continues to Resist Sanctions-Based Distracted Driving Rules

11:01 AM PDT on April 15, 2010

The Senate environment committee's senior Republican yesterday joined
his counterpart on the commerce panel in criticizing legislation
that would withhold federal highway funding from states that fail to
crack down on distracted driving, casting doubt on Congress' ability to
approve any punitive approach to reining in texting and cell phone use
by drivers.

080927_1A_Distracted_Drivin.jpg(Photo: SCnow.com)

At transport safety hearing in the environment panel -- which is
working on a new six-year infrastructure bill that could
see action
in the upper chamber this year -- Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
ruled out any attempt to use federal money as leverage in encouraging
stronger state safety rules.

"What I oppose is forcing a one-size-fits-all Washington solution
on
all states ... that withholds highway funds from states that do not
enact specific laws," Inhofe said.

In response to environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer's
(D-CA) assertion that "we have seen tremendous cooperation on the safety
part of this bill," Inhofe added that "if there's any division up here
...  it's going to be over the role of the states."

Inhofe's comments follow questions raised by Sen. Kay Bailey
Hutchison (TX), the commerce committee's senior GOP member and
co-sponsor of a
competing bill
that uses federal grants as an incentive to coax
states into passing new distracted driving laws.

"I don't think we should get into states rights," Hutchison said in
November
.

The concept of yanking federal funds from states that fail to rein
in drivers' texting and cell phone use is modeled after seat-belt and
drunk-driving laws passed in recent decades. Guarding against drunk
driving is far from a moribund issue, however; Sen. Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ) used yesterday's hearing to press the Obama administration on his
proposal
to require the installation of ignition interlocks for six
months in the cars of convicted drunk drivers.

The
interlocks
are small sensors that test a driver's breath for alcohol
before permitting them to start their vehicle. After Lautenberg cited
Centers for Disease Contol (CDC) research that found rearrests of
convicted drunk drivers dropped by 73 percent after the installation of
interlocks in their cars, U.S. DOT No. 2 John Porcari agreed that the
devices could soon be in wider use as a road safety tool.

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