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Mobile Telephones and Motor Vehicle Operation

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Publication Date: September 2004

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31588

Topic: Transportation (Motor vehicles)

Abstract:

In the United States, as well as worldwide, there has been substantial growth in the use of mobile wireless telecommunication services ("mobile telephones"). The use of mobile telephones by the drivers of motor vehicles has been the subject of certain state and local restrictions. S. 179 (108th Cong., 1st Sess. (2003)) has been introduced in the 108th Congress to provide some federal oversight of mobile telephone use by drivers of motor vehicles, by requiring the individual states to enact legislation to restrict mobile telephone use by drivers of motor vehicles. Noncomplying states would be subject to the loss of federal highway funds.

At the present time, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation concerning the use of mobile telephones by drivers of motor vehicles. The existing state laws vary greatly and are summarized in the report. Some state laws expressly preempt local regulation of mobile telephones. As of the date of this report, fifty-three pieces of legislation have been introduced in 2004 in twenty-six states and the District of Columbia concerning the use of mobile telephones by drivers of motor vehicles. The current status of state legislation is summarized stateby-state in the report.

Over the years, Congress has repeatedly conditioned the use of federal highway funds to encourage states to enact desired transportation-related legislation. For example, Congress has used this legislative device in dealing with drunk driving. The pending federal legislation making federal highway funding contingent on state restriction on the use of mobile telephones by drivers of motor vehicles would appear to follow the driving while intoxicated legislative models.

This report examines the pending federal legislation, pending and enacted state legislation, and the possible effect that the federal legislation, if enacted, might have on the existing state and local regulations.