During the 1970s, many states lowered the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. In 1984, the federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which required states to make 21 the legal purchasing age or risk losing millions of dollars in federal highway funding. Needless to say, all 50 states and the District of Columbia complied with that demand relatively quickly. Drunk driving accidents were considered a major problem and the federal government felt compelled to try to reduce them. In many ways, distracted driving has taken the place of drunk driving as the major safety concern on American roads. The federal government is once again turning to a financial incentive to resolve the problem.
Texting and driving bans have been enacted in the large majority of states. The federal government believes the penalties for distracted driving should be more stringent and more uniform. To that end, Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The law grants money to states whose distracted driving laws meet federal approval. States must have a certain fine structure, as well as a law making distracted driving a primary offense. If a state's laws are sufficient, it can gain access to federal funding.
The federal government could be taking its cues from the driving public. A survey conducted by CarInsurance.com demonstrated that many drivers believe people who are caught texting behind the wheel should receive harsher treatment than drivers caught speeding. A study from AAA showed that the vast majority of drivers agree that texting and driving is dangerous.
Illinois is looking to become the 12th state to pass a total ban on handheld devices. Federal funding could help states overcome objections that enforcing the laws is too expensive. It is one potential solution to the problem of distracted driving.
Source: Fox Business, "Money is Weapon in war on Texting," by Mark Vallet, 3 June 2013