Feds hold “silly summit” in Washington

When President Eisenhower met fact-to-face in 1959 with Soviet Premier Nikita  Khrushchev, it truly was a major event.  Every US president since then participated in similar “summits” with Soviet (and later, Russian) heads-of-state.  In recent years, the term “summit” has been used to describe a wide range of meetings — domestic and international — including many far less important than meetings between the leaders of the two most powerful nations on earth.  However, a conference scheduled to begin today and run though tomorrow, October 1st, in Washington, DC establishes once and for all that the term “summit” no longer carries any significance whatsoever.

This particular conference is sponsored by the US Department of Transportation.  It is a “Distracted Driving Summit.”  No less a personage than the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, is to convene the two-day “summit”; and over the course of these two days, heads and deputy heads of several federal, transportation-related offices will speak, as will a number of state-level officials.  The vital importance of the federal government getting a handle on the scourge of persons driving vehicles while distracted, was underscored by having a “Notice” of the pending event appear in the Federal Register earlier this month.  In that “Notice,” it was stated that participants would “address” a wide range of issues relating to driving distractions, and that they would try and come up with “possible solutions.” 

The cost of the conference aside, and with all due respect to our Secretary of Transportation, this is absolute nonsense.  “Driving distractions” have nothing — or should have nothing — to do with the federal government; and even if they did, why is it necessary to have a two-day summit to talk about them? 

It is, I think, common knowledge that people are distracted by all manner of things while driving.  They apply make-up, they eat, they drink, they talk to passengers, they bounce to music, they talk on the phone, they text, they read newspapers, their eyes wander, they use ”hand-held electronic devices.”  In other words, if something can be done, someone will find a way to do it while driving.  We also know that driving-while-distracted can cause accidents; sometimes deadly ones.  Do we really need a federal “summit” to learn these things; things that every person who has studied for and obtained a driver’s license already knows?

Are the solutions to the problem of driving-while-distracted so mysterious and ill-defined that two full days of time of hundreds of government and government-related officials must be consumed pondering such things? 

Try this for a solution:  if someone is distracted while driving and causes an accident resulting in damage, injury or death, they are liable; and if such actions violate the criminal laws of a state, they should be prosecuted.  In other words, simply enforce the laws already on the books.  There.  We’ve identified the problem, and we’ve articulated the solution.  Now, couldn’t we please stop this silly summit?

Obviously, the powers-that-be in the nation’s capitol haven’t heeded my call.  The fact of the matter is, this conference is not really designed  to simply discuss the problem and identify a solution.  The true agenda is to lay the groundwork and justification for increased government control of drivers and vehicles.  Enforcing the laws already on the books, and simply using the money to which the government already has access more efficiently, is not the agenda the Department of Transportation or any other federal agency, cares to hear.   What they live for, and what certainly will result from this “summit,” will be proposals to pass new laws, enhance existing laws, appropriate more taxpayer monies, draft more federal regulations, and mandate additional requirements on autmobile manufacturers and on companies that produce various devices that might distract drivers’ attention. 

Now, if they were having a “summit” on reducing the scope, the power and the cost of the federal government — that would be a summit I’d gladly attend.

36 comments Add your comment

Evan M

September 30th, 2009
6:35 am

Hi Bob, I’m a Libertarian and I voted for you. I’ve heard the big focus of this summit is the danger and text messaging while driving, which is a fairly new problem and I believe is a significant danger. Are basically saying that there is basically no need for any new laws dealing with this? If someone is injured or killed while a driver is texting, simply prosecute the driver? What if drunk driving was never made illegal and we simply prosecuted bad drivers regardless of cause? I’m not so sure I would want that – part of dealing with bad driving is creating an awareness of the causes of bad driving – be they alcohol or texting. Most teenagers who are texting are thoughtless about what they are doing – I think that is the point of this summit. Of course this should be done on the state level, but have the states taken any serious action about texting?
But I share your concern about how this summit about how this summit could increase the power and cost of the federal government, and I too would gladly attend a shrink government summit.

Road Scholar

September 30th, 2009
6:42 am

‘“Driving distractions” have nothing — or should have nothing — to do with the federal government; and even if they did, why is it necessary to have a two-day summit to talk about them? ‘

So Bob, name one state that has agressively protected their citizens from people who do not responsibly drive? Someone has to lead. The Feds had a program concerning accidents that reduced the federal funds to a state w/o seat belt laws. Infringement on states rights? Study after study show they work and limit injuries. Do the laws apply to pickups in all states?

The Feds have safety programs (the latest is safe routes to school). are you saying that they should not meddle ever? You don’t support the safety programs? Dekalb has a local law which ups the penalty for having an accident while on a cell phone. Shouldn’t the penalties be greater for those who knowingly disregard peoples safety and have an accident? Oh, by the way, they are crashes, not accidents.


September 30th, 2009
7:12 am

I beleive Maine has a distracted driving law in effect now.This means that a cop can pull you over anytime he/she wants and write a ticket,or not,as he/she decides.Having the right to stop you at anytime seems to be the centerpiece of this law.


September 30th, 2009
7:20 am

Well, I think you hit it out of the ballpark today Bob! It was a HUGE waste of time, for as you say, we KNOW distracted driving is dangerous, & kills more Americans each & every year than 12 times the number of deaths from the attack on 9/11…..

Why two days with dozens of “experts”, to tell us what we already know, and already know how to address?

The answer is just as you said, JUST ENFORCE THE LAWS! I’ve begged and pleaded for more cops on the roads, to do just that! There are so few cruisers out there, our highways are effectively in a state of anarchy! The only thing worse than driving while distracted, is driving distracted AND at 90mph on crowded freeways!

This two-day “summit” should have addressed a topic, urgent & needing fresh ideas, like EDUCATION, or DRUG LAW REFORM!


September 30th, 2009
7:21 am

The Feds will save us from distracted drivers while encouraging us to buy “tin-can”, “smart”, “green “,suicide-trap cars.

This summit will only produce a few 28 million dollar “studies”.

Joe L.

September 30th, 2009
7:44 am

I don’t think Mr. Barr is saying that there shouldn’t be laws against driving while distracted. I think he is saying that the STATES should be in charge of enforcing their own laws, and if you live in a state that you feel does not enforce these laws well enough, well, MOVE to one that does.
If we let the FEDS in on our driving laws than the FBI will be all over the roads to enforce thouse laws. Do you really want the FBI every where? The Po-po being around is bad enough.

David S

September 30th, 2009
7:48 am

The real problem in this country is “governing while distracted.”

Paying too much attention to everything everyone else is trying to do to make money, enjoy freedom, exercise their rights and everything else the government hates, rather than paying attention to upholding their oath to uphold and defend the constitution.

Stoned Mountain

September 30th, 2009
8:18 am

If you want to make sure something DOESN’T get done, leave it to the states. And I guess that’s Bob’s objective.


September 30th, 2009
8:27 am

Question: Does anyone know how many tickets DeKalb County has issued to cell phone users involved in/contributing to accidents since the law was enacted a few years ago? Why doesn’t some enterprising reporter pose the question?

We DO need someone to monitor drivers lacking the sense to drive defensively, and safely. Inside our wonderful driving machines, in our own worlds, we’re totally self-absorbed. Then BAM! Someone is dead or injured for life. Highway fatalities and injuries, especilly in Georgia, are astoundingly high – and costly to the state. People who do stupid things (like texting while driving) need a jolt of discipline – and maybe it will save your life or mine.

[...] Here’s from Bob Barr, former congressman and Libertarian Party nominee for president, “Feds hold ’silly summit’ in Washington“: The cost of the conference aside, and with all due respect to our Secretary of [...]


September 30th, 2009
10:11 am

Bob, I agree that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in issues like this. It is really a state issue. BUT, and you knew the but was coming, if GA is used as an example, there is no real (I mean with teeth) regulation regarding cell phone use, including texting, speed, tailgating, irresponsible lane changing, etc. Bob, have you ever worked with a 15 year-old teen while the teen was learning to drive. Telling the teen to abide by the speed limits and driving laws. It is a JOKE because of the fools all around the teen learning to drive. The teen soon realizes that speed limits are non-existent, careful driving is frowned upon. So what does this rant have to do with texting.

It is common knowledge, and taught is all defensive driving schools, that distractions are the major cause of accidents, many of which are fatal. This is a behavior that can be changed through tough laws. And because the State of GA refuses to take bad driving, texting whild driving, over use of cell phones while driving it becomes incumbent upon the federal government to do what the state of GA lacks the will to do, make it illegal.

Bob, have you ever driven a van or 15 passenger bus of Scouts on a camping weekend on GA interstates. It is always a harrowing experience for me as I witness the absolute disregard of many drivers for safety. Tell me that it’s o.k. to drive one car length behind another vehicle at 75 miles per hour. Tell me it’s o.k. to allow truckers in 18-wheelers driving no more than 2 car lengths behind my van with kids in it at 75 miles per hour. Bob, you ought to try it sometime and let’s see if you feel the distractions and safe driving violations should be enforced (regulation does not imply enforcement by the way).

Bob this stuff happens all the time because our state of GA refuses to nail these people. You and others get so bent out of shape when a police department or sheriff’s department might make some money off the dangerous speeder. I say let them make millions off these fools. So here’s some of my solution to this problem:

Person texting: fine $2,500 for first offense and required to take a defensive or safe driving course at his or her expense. Second offense: $5,000 fine and loss of driving privileges for one year (if need to get to work have a family member drive that person or the person takes public transport). Person’s cell phone is confiscated by the police.

Tailgating: $1,000 fine for the first offense and defensive/safe driving course at offenders expense. Second offense: $2,500 fine and loss of driving privileges for 6-months. Third offense: $10,000 fine and loss of driving privileges for five years and car impounded.

I could go on, Bob, but I think you get the message. Make the fines very stiff and the potential loss of driving privileges costly to the offender.

Lastly, and your going to love this, hire 5,000 more State Patrol and blanket the interstates with Troopers for the next five years. Bob, I guarantee if steps like these were taken GA would become one of the safest places to drive in the United States. Just think of all the tourists who would visit because GA would be so safe to drive here.

However, it won’t happen, because there is no will to stop or deter the nonsense on GA roads.


September 30th, 2009
10:29 am

There ought to be a law against having anything in your hand while driving other than the steering wheel.

Chris Broe

September 30th, 2009
10:47 am

Chris Broe

September 30th, 2009
10:50 am

CNN just reported on the world’s first drive-by texting. A Los Angeles gang member drove by a rival gang’s clubhouse, pulled out a cellphone, and began texting to his ho. His car went out of control and crashed into the rival clubhouse, killing and maiming everyone inside. The perp fled the scene but was soon apprehended by police who used cell towers, triangulation, and the fact that he always be chillin’ at his ho’s crib, dawg.


September 30th, 2009
11:06 am

Pimpin aint easy.


September 30th, 2009
12:38 pm

Would you care to repeat your opinion to the groups of families who have lost their loved ones to traffic accidents? Do you find that “silly?” Amazing lack of depth on your part sir, I hope I never have to drive on the same road as you, I’d fear for my life.


September 30th, 2009
12:39 pm

You can’t make cornbread out of flour.

Shaneneeee Faneneeeeeee

September 30th, 2009
12:54 pm

“During 2009 and 2010 all existing buisnesses will receive a $3,000 tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired.” – Barack Obama ???????? No need to keep his word during this time of massive job growth and going overseas to push our country’s rights…..for the Olympics???? It is funny how Chicago is the option where ironically President Obama was a Senator and he probably has some friends that will benefit by the Summer Games being held in the Windy City. ?????

Chris Broe

September 30th, 2009
1:03 pm

The Kitchen Debates between Kruschev and Nixon deserve a mention here, since Nixon kept referring to America’s advantage in high tech consumer goods. (and it was a turning point in US Soviet relations).

Nixon pointed to the American dishwasher, fridge and oven that were on display. Kruschev pointed to the Soviet’s commune stew-pots which were molded from old WW2 Panzer tanks collected from battlefields near Minsk. There was an old Russian woman stirring the bubbling cauldron in a fireplace, so Nixon called her over. Reluctantly, she approached both Kruschev and Nixon. Nixon asked her if she would like to try the modern american stove instead of the open fire stew pot. The woman looked at the American Stove which had a small covered pan cooking something. She peeked under the lid, and then ran out of the building screaming with delight, “They have StoveTop Stuffing! The Americans have StoveTop Stuffing!”

Kruschev threw his shoe at her, killing her instantly. It would take the crumbling of the Berlin Wall to get the trade agreement that allowed Russian women to get that close to Stovetop Stuffing again.

True Story (William Safire’s AutoBio, 1964 Random House)

Today’s interesting tidbit: Boris Yeltsin was the first non communist president of Russia.

Billy Bob

September 30th, 2009
1:09 pm


I like your approach to highway safety except for possibly hiring the extra 5,000 safety officers. Almost every incident you relate I, and I’m sure others, have also experienced.

I also think the approach you outline could be used in the drug wars. Heavily fine the casual marijuana, coke, methamphetamine, etc. users – no jail time, necessarily, and dry up a great deal of that demand.

The only extra people you need to hire might be some ‘bill collectors’ to go after any offenders who don’t pay.


September 30th, 2009
2:31 pm

It’s all about more government control over our lives. Period end of story.!To get the USA back on the right track reduce government size by 50%and make people responsible for their own lives. Get the government out of our lives!

Hillbilly Deluxe

September 30th, 2009
2:37 pm

Once worked for a company with 300+ employees. CEO made it a company rule that no one could talk on a cell phone while driving a company vehicle. After that rule went into effect, I routinely saw the CEO driving in his company furnished vehicle, during business hours, talking on his cell phone. Oh well.

J. Eby

September 30th, 2009
3:18 pm

As a California resident, I witnessed a brief period of compliance with last year’s hands-free legislation that has mostly gone by the wayside as law enforcement agencies appear to have lost interest in enforcing the (watered down, toothless) regs. Today, most drivers seem to simply ignore CA’s hands-free and no-texting laws, except for maybe ADDING the distraction of keeping an eye out for the cops. As it is, we’re getting mixed messages from our state governments. A story about the problem in last week’s L.A. Times stated: “At least 22 states that ban texting while driving offer some type of service that allows motorists to get information about traffic tie-ups, road conditions or emergencies via Twitter”. It should be no surprise that CA is one of the 22. So yeah, Bob, let’s just leave it to the states. Maybe just think of it as population control.


September 30th, 2009
3:43 pm

Solid analysis Mr.Barr. This is indeed about further (Big) government empowerment/growth.



September 30th, 2009
4:00 pm

When the cops, firemen, politicians and Marta drivers stop using the cell phone behind the wheel, the gubment might get some cooperation from the masses. I am not saying it is smart/right to be distracted while driving and each individual should be thoughtful of the public safety – just that I hate being held to a higher standard than those enforcing the standard. The public at large should be able to collect a $25 bounty for each policeman/marta driver they see using a cell phone behind the wheel – taken from the paycheck of the offender!


September 30th, 2009
4:03 pm

I saw this on CNN this afternoon…15 minutes’ worth, no less. Condescending bureaucrats spending countless taxpayer dollars on studies and ‘Summits’ to tell stupid people NOT to be STUPID. Perhaps we can follow this up with the “Don’t Stick Your Finger In The Wall Socket Summit.” People are DYING out there, people!


September 30th, 2009
4:21 pm

Jack @ 10;49,
I agree with you.That’s the way I drive.No distractions,no radio,no nothing.Put your hands on the wheel and pay attention.Accident free for 45 years.

Maxwell Snark

September 30th, 2009
5:39 pm

Dude who crashed in front of my house blew a .15 and also told the cops he was texting, while speeding, on a narrow residential street. Nice.


September 30th, 2009
7:51 pm

Enter your comments here Put a device in the cellphones (FCC could probably mandate this) that if the phone is traveling in excess of say, 25MPH only calls to 911 will work. The technology already exists. Passing a law, for example against “texting” is an exercise in futility. How exactly would it be enforced? Mr. Barr is on target with this “summit” nonsense. I came up with a reasonable solution and I am no “expert” or anything of the sort. Fact of the matter is I’m nowhere near being the brightest bulb on the chandelier (ask my wife, she’ll tell you) Meanwhile, these nitwits are giving speeches, traveling, eating and entertaining themselves at taxpayer expense in an economy that has evolved from “circling the drain” to “maelstorm?”


September 30th, 2009
10:11 pm

I completely agree, Bob! Thanks for your incite and reporting!


September 30th, 2009
10:15 pm

Dear Bob, not only do I agree with your article (see previous comment), but I wish you would now address the nonsense over surveillance cameras planned for Piedmont Park. What in the world has our city and its leaders come to? If you’re afraid of going to the park, go during the day or not at all. End of story. But to spend $42k, come on?!


October 1st, 2009
11:46 am

This admin. labels everything they want to address as a “crisis” and then has overblown, urgent response. The only exception I can think of is in matters of national security.

This could simply be addressed by the fed.s suggesting that states tackle this as an important issue.


October 1st, 2009
3:03 pm

Every time you sneeze your eyes close for a second. I wish they’d make a law against sneezing while driving…

The bottom line is that it’s not illegal to be stupid in America. I know that bothers a lot of people but it’s true. When your stupidity while driving injures someone else or their property though, that’s another story…and I’m pretty sure it’s already illegal.

Maybe parents should stop giving every kid a cell phone. Maybe those with cell phones should have texting blocked. My kids have cell phones that just make phone calls and believe it or not they actually get by with them. Sure they whine but I’m pretty sure they’ll be OK.

You can’t legislate responsibility…you just end up making more criminals.

Randy Hawkins

October 1st, 2009
3:33 pm

This is a state issue. Who will enforce it, federal troopers? No, state troopers. Stay out of it feds!

Chris Broe

October 1st, 2009
3:42 pm

They couldn’t clean up the blogs. They cant stop girls gone wild. They tried hard, but to no avail, to ban the Jonas Brothers once and for all (and for the common good).

So they cant stop texting while driving neither.

The solution is education. You’re supposed to hold the cellphone up above the steering wheel directly in your line of sight so you can see the road, sort of. Come on, Peoples. ANd limit your texting to booty calls, okay?

Come on, fellow horndogs! Together we can make our highways safer!

Krystal Kid

October 1st, 2009
5:18 pm

Enter your comm80% percent of all rear end collisions (the most frequent vehicle accident) are caused by driver inattention, following too closely, external distraction (talking on cell phones, shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, kids, texting, etc.) and poor judgement.

There’s not much you can do about a rear end collision so I went out and got one of these sparebumper.com