States’ Rights to Deadly Car Crashes

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As I wrote yesterday, legal crackdowns on distracted driving are a public health no-brainer. When you try to pilot a fast-moving and extremely heavy vehicle while also sending and receiving text messages and phone calls, you are endangering not only your own life but the life of everyone else trying to get from point A to point B. Thankfully, members of congress are considering legislative action to address the problem. Oddly, however, as Elana Schor explains it’s become a point of political contention.

Basically Jay Rockefeller and a group of three Republicans wants to offer extra money to states that tackle distracted driving. But back in July, a group of Democratic senators proposed penalizing states that fail to pass bills tackling distracted driving. Chuck Schumer, sensibly, is on board for both approaches. Kay Bailey Hutchison, less sensibly, opposes the stick approach and does so in a manner designed to analogize herself to white supremacists:

“I don’t think we ought to get into states’ rights,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who is campaigning for her state’s governorship next year, said. “[T]he states have addressed this in very different ways, but many of them are addressing it.”

Vernon Betkey, chairman of the Governors’ Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which represents state highway officials, echoed Hutchison’s stance in a Thursday appearance before the House transportation committee.

Hutchison’s opponent, of course, is Rick Perry who’s been making noise about secession recently. Obviously there’s something in the water down there.

As for the merits of Hutchison’s proposal, it would be interesting to see a legislator stake out a principled opposition to all federal conditional financial grants. You could do that either by opposing all federal financial grants (no money for highways, schools, etc.) or by opposing all conditionality. But to stake out the view that there’s nothing wrong with conditional grants per se but that we daren’t interfere with states’ sacred right to permit dangerous driving practices seems very strange.