Thursday, July 30, 2009

Several Senators Want States to Ban TWD: Texting While Driving

Several Senators want states to ban TWD: Texting While Driving. Citing to studies which indicate that drivers who send text messages while driving pose a greater risk of traffic accidents, four Democrats have introduced a bill that might effectively lead to a "national" ban on TWD.

The proposed measure, introduced by Democratic Senators Schumer, Landrieu, Menedez, and Hagan, would deprive states of federal highway funds if they did not ban TWD within 2 years. Each year without a TWD ban would cost a state 25% of its federal highway funds. Fourteen states have already banned TWD.

My Thoughts: States versus Congress
Although I strongly support federal involvement in very important issues, this matter seems a bit odd to me. The measure is simply a "national" traffic law tied to the use of federal highway assistance.

Nevertheless, the measure, if passed, would not violate the Constitution (at least from what I have read about the bill). While the conservative Supreme Court has significantly curtailed the ability of Congress to regulate the states, it has not substantially limited the power of Congress to impose regulatory duties upon the states via the Spending Power. Indeed, there are no free lunches.

Congress has the constitutional authority to spend, and it has used this power to shape policies in the states -- and to establish national policy. With respect to highway funds, the "national" 21-year-old drinking age results from a federal law that would deprive noncomplying states of highway assistance. Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and other federally funded programs also provide money to and impose requirements upon states.

Congress used the Spending Power to accelerate the pace of racial integration in public schools when it passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law contains a provision that bans the use of federal money in a manner that discriminates on the basis of race. Until the passage of this law (ten years after Brown v. Board of Education), most schools remained completely segregated in the South.

Banning TWD seems like a brilliant idea for a state to implement. Perhaps Congress should let the states take the lead, however. Where important rights or vital national interests are at stake, I fully support the use of the Spending Power (and Court doctrine) to accomplish national standards. But this measure seems to jump ahead of the states at a time when Congress certainly has more pressing issues to discuss.

What do you think?

13 comments:

andgarden said...

The current Court has, IMO, funny/quaint ideas about federalism. Ideally, Congress could just do this through the commerce clause. National driving laws seem like the kinds of things that ought to be implementable in that way.

But if the (not) spending power is what Congress has to use, I'm fine with that.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Andgarden: I am not sure if the Commerce Clause is an easy answer. Certainly, Congress could argue that regulating the use of cell phones on "all roads" is substantially related to its absolute authority to regulate interstate highways. But I suppose a conservative could ask whether the problem warrants regulation on all roads, particularly those that are internal to remote cities. The Spending Power still gives Congress broad authority -- and I am comfortable with that. But this just seems like a "look what I did" piece of legislation, rather than a serious examination of policy.

andgarden said...

My guess is that Congress would have been able to implement national driving laws under Wickard. I think there's a pretty good argument that driving substantially impacts interstate commerce. Not so much since the 90s and Lopez.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Driving affects interstate commerce, but does text messaging on the roads impact interstate commerce?

andgarden said...

I think you could make a case for it. Texters cause accidents on interstate highways, for example.

Aspasia said...

Regardless of who decides to make laws against TWD, it means nothing unless it's enforced. We also banned talking while driving and insist on handsfree devices. Okay, on your next drive, count how many people are actually using handsfree devices. I'd be shocked if you can use two hands for the count.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aspasia: Usually,the cops are the main offenders!

Aspasia said...

@Darren: Tell me about it! My brother, sister-in-law and I play a game when we're out. We award ourselves $50 for every civilian driver on the phone, $100 for cabbies and coppers and $200 for public transit drivers. Yes, I have even been on the bus and the driver is one the phone! I think one time, I racked up about $1500 in ten minutes just traveling through downtown Chicago with our game.

So, if this happens, I think it'll just be another useless law on our books.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Hutchinson: More to the point, such grandstanding continues the fatty degeneration Congress is doing to itself. Congress has time to pontificate on such laws---and steroid use in sports---but not enough time to read the contents of $787 billion stimulus bills, not to mention national health care. You may remember one of Parkinson's laws: the amount of time spent by a board of directors on a topic is inversely proportional to the amount of money involved. That's what is happening here. It's bad for effectiveness. Congress needs to be effective to perform its role in the American system of government.

You may be for federal anti-texting laws (I'm not, both for policy and for effectiveness reasons.) But my God, why is that imbecile Schumer even thinking about such trivia when such great issues are on the stage?

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hey Greg: Is this a first (we generally agree)?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aspasia: I have seen bus drivers on the phone too. Worst: I have seen tracker-trailer drivers on the phone.

The Gaucho Politico said...

I really see this as being a states issue. Congress might be able to get away with this under the commerce clause but the effects seem remote. Would the argument be that texting caused accidents delay shipments costing x billions of dollars? I guess congress has the power to regulate the instrumentalities of interstate commerce so reulating all roads could be akin to regulating ferry routes or train lines.

to me even if congress can do it it has the feel of a state issue even if i cant articulate why.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Gaucho. Congress will definitely "be able to get away with this" under the Spending Power. The Commerce Clause discussion was more of a hypothetical.

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