Congressional Democrats Announce Distracted Driving Bill

By: - April 29, 2021 12:00 am

Vehicles pass the scene where a New York City police officer was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver as he was directing traffic away from the scene of an earlier crash this month. John Minchillo/The Associated Press

Three Democratic members of Congress have introduced a bill aimed at reducing crashes involving distracted drivers and preventing first responder roadside deaths.

U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Cheri Bustos, all from Illinois, announced the measure, called the Protecting Roadside First Responders Act. It would require that safety technologies to counter distracted driving be installed in all new vehicles, and would provide states with funding to add digital alert technology to trigger “move over” warnings in navigation apps.

“We see heartbreaking stories of roadside accidents in Illinois every year due to distracted driving,” Durbin said in a news release. “To help save lives and reverse the alarming rise in first responder roadside deaths, we must increase the use of crash avoidance technologies and awareness of ‘Move Over’ laws.”

The legislation would require automatic emergency breaking systems and lane departure warnings on all new vehicles within five years.

Many auto manufacturers already include such systems in new vehicles, but often only as costly upgrades.

The legislation also would expand eligibility for federal safety grants to pay for digital alert technology that notifies drivers through navigation apps when they are approaching a roadside first responder and direct them to follow move over laws. And it would expand grants for move over public information campaigns.

Every state has a move over law that requires drivers to slow down or switch lanes when they pass emergency vehicles, and, in many states, when they pass tow trucks and transportation maintenance vehicles. Still, safety experts say many drivers don’t know about the laws.

About eight people in the United States are killed every day in crashes that involve a distracted driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This amounts to about 3,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries a year.

Emergency responders die or are injured each year while doing their jobs on the highway.

Work zone crashes and fatalities have spiked in some states during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the drop in traffic, alarming transportation and highway safety officials.

And pedestrian fatalities grew in 27 states in the first half of 2020, despite a large drop in traffic volume during the pandemic, according to a March report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.