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(c) 2014 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

National Analysis of Workers Compensation Medical Benefits


The just published, Issue 3 of the Workers’ Compensation Resources Research Report (WCRRR) provides 23 years of information on cash benefits, medical benefits, and total (cash plus medical) benefits per 100,000 workers for up to 47 jurisdictions each year. Workers’ compensation benefits per 100,000 workers varied significantly nationally over these years. 


In the most recent six years, total benefits per 100,000 workers increased by less than one percent in two years and declined in the other four years. There also typically are wide differences among jurisdictions in the generosity of benefits in a particular year. In 2007, for example, total benefits per 100,000 workers were more than fifty percent about the national average in five states and more than fifty percent below the national average in one jurisdiction. Over the 23 years, the differences among states have narrowed for cash benefits, medical benefits, and total benefits, although the differences among states in medical benefits have increased since 1998. 

The WCRRR is edited by John F. Burton, Jr. Additional information about Issue 3 and an order form are available at www.workerscompresources.com.
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FECA Maybe Getting a Tuneup After 40 Years

A recent Congressional hearing concerning the Federal workers' Compensation program for injured workers reveals insight into the dramatic problems facing the nation's benefit program. The program has not had any major revisions in the last 40 years.

Senator Daniel K. Akaka remarked:

"One of FECA’s core principles is that workers and their families should be no better or worse off than they would have been if the worker had not been injured."

Member Statements
Senator Daniel K. Akaka [view statement]

Witnesses
Panel 1
The Honorable Christine M. Griffin [view testimony]
Deputy Director
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Mr. Gary Steinberg [view testimony]
Acting Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
U.S. Department of Labor

Panel 2
Mr. Andrew Sherrill [view testimony]
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Mr. Joseph Beaudoin [view testimony]
President
National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association
Mr. Ronald Watson [view testimony] 
Consultant
National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO
Dr. Gregory Krohm [view testimony]
Executive Director
International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions

Cell Phones and Cancer: The Static in the Debate

A recently published European study boldly and with much confusion declares that children are not at an increased risk of cancer as a result of cell phone use. Knowledgeable commentators has questioned the reliability of the data and analysis resulting in questioning the veracity of the European study altogether.

Microwave News reported:
'The first study to look at brain tumors among children and teenagers who have used cell phones came out today and it shows no increased risk. Well, actually, the study, known as CEFALO, does indicate a higher risk —the problem is that it found a higher risk for all the kids who used a phone more than once a week for six months, regardless of how much time they spent on the phone. Because the risk does not go up with more use, the CEFALO team argues that the results argue against a true association.

Professor Franklin E. Mier, PhD, CID, Environmental and Occupational Health SciencesCUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, commented:
"A study may provide "evidence for," or more rarely, evidence against an increased risk associated with an exposure. The exposure should be further characterized by level and duration. The evidence might further be characterized as "clear," "some" or "equivocal." In studies of people, either single studies or a collections of studies, "chance, bias, and confounding" must be evaluated, which impacts the strength of the evidence derived from the study. Studies failing to find an association should be characterized as "null" rather than "negative."

"Each newly published study should be characterized in the context of previous studies, evaluated as a group. IARC characterized the body of evidence previous to the study reported here as "limited." Those who wish to make their own evaluation should read the IARC monograph in detail. Personally, I don't think the body of evidence will ever advance beyond "limited" evidence. Also, resources and media attention will continue to be devoted to restudying this exposure (as opposed to other exposures of concern) because rich people use cell phones.

Dramatically conflicting studies are now surfacing. The signal is not yet clear and the static will have to resolve before the causal connection between cell phone use and cancer can be ruled out.


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Asbestos Disease Claims Continue to Surge

A recent analysis reveals that mesothelioma claims continue to surge. Insurance companies such as Hartford and AIG forced to increase reserves. Exposures from the 1970's are now manifesting in disease and claims for benefits. 


Mesothelioma is a rare but fatal condition caused by exposure to asbestos fiber. It is a condition that they remain dormant for as long as 30 years or more before manifesting symptoms.


Asbestos was used as an insulation product and for structural support i many products including ceiling title and other construction material. It was used to insulate boilers and other heat generating devices.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Deal or No Deal: Judge Relies on Court Appointed Physician

An Appellate Court has rule that a Judge of Compensation can select an independent physician to review the need for medical treatment. It doesn't matter whether or not the parties agreed formally or informally as to the binding effect of the physician's opinion as to causal relationship and the need for treatment.


The Court has discretion to merely rely upon the physician's opinion and reach a reach a decision based upon the report. The cost  of the evaluation is to be paid for by the employer /insurance carrier. Furthermore, the Court need not hold a hearing for oral argument on the issue and can reach a binding on the papers alone.


Thompson v. Quality Et al., 2011 WL 3107767, Docket No. A-1177-10T1 (NJ App. Div.) decided July 27, 2011.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NIOSH Fails to Link Cancer as Zadroga Fund Compensable

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a report concluding that cancer is not a compensable disease for the Zadroga World Trade Center Victims Compensation Fund.

The report concludes:
"Based on the scientific and medical findings in the peer-reviewed literature reported in this first periodic review of cancer for the WTC Health Program, insufficient evidence exists at this time to propose a rule to add cancer, or a certain type of cancer, to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions. "

Although a determination cannot be made to propose a rule to add cancer, or a type of cancer, to the List of WTC-Related Heath Conditions at this time, it is important to point out that the current absence of published scientific and medical findings demonstrating a causal association between the exposures resulting from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the occurrence of cancer in responders and survivors does not indicate evidence of the absence of a causal association. 

"It is expected that the second periodic review of cancer for the WTC Health Program will be conducted in early to mid-2012 to capture any emerging findings about exposures and cancer in responders and survivors affected by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

7 Problems Facing Work Comp in a Credit Default

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 7/25/11
Workers' Compensation payments are so intertwined with the national system of workers' compensation that a potential US credit fault will impact the system significantly. Workers' Compensation is social remedial legislation and as the US government leaders struggle to find a political solution to the nation's financial crisis concern becomes focussed on how a shutdown will impact the national workers' compensation system.


The consequences of a US credit default will be significant. President Obama stated, "If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills -– bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses. "


1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and their contractor will be unable to provide conditional payment information under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act. Negotiations in workers compensation matters will come to halt.


2. CMS will be unable to approve compromises and releases in advance of workers' compensation disposition thereby halting the State systems.


3. CMS and their agents will be unable to review Medicare Set-Aside Agreements thereby stopping workers' compensation dispositions by compromise.


4. Chaos will erupt in those States where Social Security takes a reverse offset on permanency payments. Workers' compensation insurance companies and employers will become responsible for the entire amount to be paid.


5. The Veterans' Administration will be unable to provide information concerning medical treatment. Records will he held-up and will delay evaluations in adjudications in workers' compensation cases.


6. Tricare and other federal insurance providers will be unable to provide benefit information. The lack of reimbursement data will stymie evaluation of medica reimbursement issues slowing the disposition and settlements of workers' compensation claims.


7. The US Military will be unable to provide Personnel Records and prior medical treatment and claim information.


The potential fiscal impact of a US debt crisis is enormous.  Hopefully, the politicians in Washington will reach a compromise and the this crisis will be resolved and everyone can creatively focus on making the compensation system less complicated and more efficient.

Monday, July 25, 2011

US Senate to Hold Hearing on Federal Comp System Reform

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) will hold a hearing titled Examining the Federal Workers' Compensation Program for Injured Employees to examine reform proposals for the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA).


The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) provides workers' compensation coverage to federal civilian workers for any injury or illness incurred on the job. FECA has not been significantly updated in close to 40 years. A number of changes have been proposed, which are intended to modernize the program, improve return-to-work incentives, and reduce the overall cost to the Federal government. Discussion will focus largely on proposals to reduce FECA wage loss compensation benefits for disabled FECA recipients who reach retirement age.


EXAMINING THE FEDERAL WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PROGRAM FOR INJURED EMPLOYEES

Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia

Live video will not be available until approximately 15 minutes prior to the scheduled hearing start time.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
02:00 PM - 05:00 PM
Dirksen Senate Office Building, room SD-342
The hearing will be webcast live at: hsgac.senate.gov 
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service should contact Aaron Woolf, Subcommittee Chief Clerk, no later than 3 business days before the hearings. This will allow the office a reasonable amount of time before the event to make any necessary arrangements.

Witnesses

Panel 1

  • The Honorable Christine M. Griffin
    Deputy Director
    U.S. Office of Personnel Management
  • Mr. Gary Steinberg
    Acting Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
    U.S. Department of Labor
  • Mr. Andrew Sherrill
    Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    U.S. Government Accountability Office

Panel 2


Thursday, July 21, 2011

That Used to Be Comp

A parallel can be drawn between the concepts discussed  by Thomas Friedman, at the National Governors Conference last week, and the status of the ailing workers’ compensation system in the US. The present problems, that have been the subject of Band-Aid statutory reform and regulatory directives, lack creative solutions. Reinventing America  and workers compensation must incorporate  the challenges of globalization, technology, national deficits and energy consummation, to meet the demands of the new world.

Mr. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes, and is the author 5  best sellers. His newest book, “That Used To Be Us” is scheduled for release in September. He declares that “the American dream is in peril.” What worked in the past for the Nation to be a vibrant economy will no longer work in the future. Change is necessary.

The State workers’ compensation system, crafted over one hundred years ago, in the time of the American Industrial Revolution, no longer functions as an efficient, remedial and expeditious method for the handling of disability claims. Traumatic events have given way to multifaceted occupational diseases, the simplicity of single stage medical treatment protocols have multiplied into complex and costly: diagnostics, treatment modalities, and pharmaceutical regiments, that are accentuated with personalized genetic modeling.

The world of workers’ compensation will have difficulty meeting its responsibilities without adequate funding as payrolls fall, fewer people become employed as technology takes the place of jobs, and workload is distributed across the globe and into The Cloud. Creative thinking is necessary to look forward and determine how to administer and reconfigure the compensation system so that it meets the needs of injured workers rather than rejects them. A Labor force that is healthy will strengthen the national economy. Instead of dueling at every street corner in the land over medical fees and payment reimbursement, it is time to look at an inventive and universal remedy.

Thomas Friedman remarked that in the future there will be two types of nations, The High Imagining Enabled (HIE) countries and the Low Imagining Enabled (LIE) countries. The United States needs to relook at what used to be an efficient and functioning workers’ compensation system, and redevelop it through creative thinking and available global technology, to make it workable once again.

That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 5, 2011), 400 pp.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Setoff Nightmare: The Pension Well Runs Dry

Over the past decades of reform, legislatures throughout the United States have established rules and regulations to offset pensions from workers' compensation benefits chasing off potential claims. Now faced with economic stress, public entities are following the path of private companies, and about to default on pension payments.


The NY Times reports today that a town in Rhode Island has asked 19,000 pension beneficiaries to forgo their pension benefits. The program is called, "The Big Ask."


The consequences are severe. The claimants who failed to file for workers' compensation benefits because they were scarred off by potential bankruptcy setoffs from their workers' compensation awards, and now being left out in the cold. Injured workers are now barred by the statute of limitations from collection compensation. 


Legislatures must consider this adverse consequence. Modifications in State laws are now required to protect workers from this contingency. Laws should be modified to permit a tolling of the statute of limitations so that workers in the future will not be asking why their rights for workers' compensation benefits were stolen.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zadroga WTC Health Claims Fund Town Hall Meetings

The Special Master for the Zadroga 9-11 Victims Compensation Fund, Sheila L. Birnbaum, will be holding a series of public town hall forums to discuss the operation of the Fund. Those meetings will take place in both New York and New Jersey.
  • Wednesday, July 27th 6:00-7:30pm: Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Blvd, New York, NY
  • Thursday, July 28th 6:00-7:30pm: Jersey City City Hall - Council Chambers, 280 Grove Street, Jersey City, NJ
  • Tuesday, August 2nd 6:00-7:30pm: Melville Marriott, 1350 Old Walt Whitman Road, Melville, NY
The program was established to provide compensation and medical monitoring to victims of the September 11th tragedy in New York City. Regulations for the operation of the Fund have yet to be announced. It is anticipated that the Fund should be operational by July 1, 2011. Those who were exposed to the toxic dust and fumes of the World Trade Center disaster continue to suffer from latent and progressive medical conditions. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that a substantial population that was exposed to the toxic residuals of the event are suffering from sever medical conditions. Positive pathological findings reflect the existence of aluminum and magnesium silicates, chrysotile asbestos, calcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, glass, and carbon nanotubes (CNT) were found in specimens of exposed individuals.

Eligibility for benefits under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act include those who were World Trade Center victims and First Responders. Under the law those who worked, attended school, childcare and adult day care, may be eligible. The program also covers some who were present in the area of the dust cloud or who lived in the the New York City disaster area. Certain  cleanup and maintenance workers are included including tele-communications workers such as Verizon, AT&T and other employees.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.



Related articles

Friday, July 15, 2011

Workers Are Injured by Misclassification

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hotel Workers Have Work Comp Claims

Long before the Straus-Kahn publicity, hotel workers have been suffering from work related accidents and injuries leading to workers compensation benefits. The US Centers for Disease Control and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have published a brochure and announced a new partnership program to promote innovative research and improve workplace practices.

The National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) is a partnership program to promote innovative research and improve workplace practices. Unveiled in 1996, NORA is a framework for guiding occupational safety and health research and interventions throughout the nation. NORA stakeholders collaborate to identify critical workplace issues in industry sectors. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) convened a number of these partners to develop the National Services Agenda, which includes safety and health goals for the Accommodations Industry. Groups such as unions, worker organizations, government agencies, and hotel/motel associations can build partnerships to implement these goals and help ensure that hotels are safe for all employees.

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Workers Compensation, Pensions and Bankruptcy

The rush to offset everything from workers compensation awards, including pensions, may cause some injured workers, to their longterm detriment, not to pursue a compensation claim. Should the pension be compromised in the future for lack of funding, as what is happening in a municipality in Rhode Island, then the injured worker maybe unable to seek workers' compensation because of a waiver for failing to file a claim originally. Injured workers and the attorneys may need to rethink their strategy for workers compensation.

Incorrect Offset of Temporary Benefits

The incorrect offset of temporary Workers' Compensation benefits is not the basis for an interlocutory appeal ruled a NJ Appellate Court.

"Appellant Linda Scott appeals from a determination by the Judge of Compensation that her former employer, the County of Bergen (Bergen), is entitled to an offset pursuant to the provisions of N .J.S.A. 34:15-43 and N.J.S.A. 34:15-29, permitting Bergen to avoid the payment of temporary compensation benefits to appellant due to her receipt of an ordinary disability retirement pension from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS). We dismiss this appeal as interlocutory because it does not present an issue that should be decided at this time and no application for leave to appeal was filed. R. 2:2-4.

"Leave to appeal was not sought nor does appellant argue such leave should be granted. Scott is receiving the ordinary disability pension; thus, the lack of additional funds from a temporary disability payment does not leave her destitute. This appeal neither presents a situation where the interests of justice require us to rule on the merits nor does it address a legal issue of general importance likely to recur often.

Scott v The County of Bergen, Not Reported in A.3d, 2011 WL 2651957 (N.J.Super.A.D.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Debt Ceiling and Workers Compensation

President Barack Obama talks with members of his staff in the Oval Office following a meeting with the Congressional Leadership, July 7, 2011. Pictured with the President, from left, are: Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Rob Nabors, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs; Bruce Reed, Chief of Staff to the Vice President; National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Jason Furman, Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew; Senior Advisor David Plouffe; and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


As The Debt Ceiling Crisis continues to fester in a sluggish economy, the attack on public health programs like Medicare and Workers Compensation remain targets of cuts. Basically the medical delivery system just can't be supported and is imploding bringing down the entire house of cards.

Workers' Compensation, a patchwork of state programs, has a target on its back. The system is a massive Ponzi Scheme that now lacks a base of economic support and can no longer provide delivery of benefits in either the arena of medical or indemnity. It is the promise to Labor that just can't be kept.

Angry critics from cost to coast have targeted the system with a plethora of lame excuses why the system is ailing and why it is too costly to maintain as presently structured. While Industry continues somewhat to the downfall of workers' compensation, it cannot be blamed entirely. The compensation system was build on the foundation of the Industrial Revolution and a massive insurance scheme of the early 1900s that no longer realistically exists. Medical science has been transformed from the ancient French medical practice of the use of leaches, no anesthesia and zero sterilization, to an era of modern medicine with modern modalities, complex diagnostic and treatment and research protocols.  

As the debate unfolds in Washington DC on the debt ceiling, the focus with become more directed upon public entitlement programs and benefits that need to be modernized and revamped to meet the current changes to the economy and health of the nation. One of those targets will ultimately be workers' compensation and this time the politicians should look at it not in the light of negativity but rather for all the positive benefits workers compensation brings the nation.

Better Control Over Asbestos Contaminated Sites Required

Senator Max Baucus (MT)


The recent discovery of the spread of asbestos contamination in Libby MT, which had been declared a Public Health Emergency, is shocking. Asbestos, a known carcinogen, associated with mesothelioma, is reportedly still lingering throughout the community. 

Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus vowed to find answers regarding reports today of asbestos-contaminated bark and wood chips being sold in Libby, MT and beyond. 

"We've made tremendous strides in the effort to help Libby heal with health care and environmental cleanup. But trust is essential to Libby's ability to heal psychologically and economically. Now it appears EPA's actions may have put that trust in jeopardy, so you can bet I'll be holding EPA's feet to the fire to find out exactly what they knew, when they knew it, and whether action is needed to ensure the safety of folks in Libby and across the country who were exposed to this bark," Baucus said. "The people of Libby have already been poisoned in the name of greed and I won't allow them to be victimized again because of negligence. We need to work together to make sure safety information is complete and transparent so the community can move forward and create jobs with faith in the agencies and processes that are supposed to protect them."

Since news reports first linked widespread deaths and illness to exposure to deadly asbestos fibers at the defunct W.R Grace and Co. mine, Baucus has visited Libby more than 20 times, secured millions for healthcare and cleanup, brought numerous White House cabinet secretaries to the town, helped save the CARD clinic, and has dogged the EPA to keep cleanup efforts moving forward. 

As far back as 1999, Baucus wrote a letter to then Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala requesting immediate medical help and assistance to the area. He further lambasted the EPA's decision to not declare a Public Health Emergency, calling it an "outrage." 

In 2008, Baucus released a report detailing a 2002 attempt by the EPA to declare a Public Health Emergency in Libby that was thwarted by the previous Administration's Office of Management and Budget. And on June 17, 2009, due in large part to Baucus' efforts, the EPA declared its first ever public health emergency in Libby, Montana. 

Earlier this year Baucus was announced as the 2011 Tribute of Hope Award recipient by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) for his tireless efforts fighting on behalf of residents of Libby, Lincoln County and Asbestos victims everywhere. In March, the Senate unanimously passed Baucus' resolution to designate the first week of April 2011 as "Asbestos Awareness Week," and call attention to Libby and other victims of asbestos-related disease.

The continued spread of this contamination is yet another reason why the US must finally ban asbestos entirely. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Portal (WCMSAP)


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is currently Pilot Testing the Workers' Compensation Medicare Set-aside Portal (WCMSAP), a web-based application. This new initiative will allow submitters of Workers' Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangements (WCMSAs) to directly enter case information, upload documentation, and receive case status information through the use of a secure Web portal. 

This secure Web portal will greatly improve the efficiency of the submission process for WCMSAs, including receipt of the proposal by its Workers' Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC). The WCMSAP, a web-based application, will allow attorneys, beneficiaries, claimants, insurance carriers, representative payees, and WCMSA vendors to:

• Create a work-in-progress case
• Submit WCMSA cases
• Perform case lookups
• Append documentation to a case

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Distracted Driving Increases Workers' Compensation Risks

In a recent video interview, Jon Gelman, spoke about the serious workers' compensation and liability risks that employers face flowing from distracted driving.

For the complete interview click here.

National Cell Phone Ban Proposed by Congress


Cell phone abuse while driving has been proposed by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY4).  Distracted driving accidents are soaring and are now emerging as a major cause of work-related accidents.

Distracted riving claims are a major liability issue for employers and their insurance carriers. Liability falls upon the employers for workers' compensation benefits, potential liability damages by innocent injured third-parties, and subject employers to fines by regulatory agencies such as The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

McCarthy, a victim of an accident caused by testing while driving, is a former nurse who has made public health and safety a hallmark of her tenure in Congress, has announced new federal legislation that would create a single national standard prohibiting the use of handheld mobile devices while driving.


“Driving while making a phone call, texting or using apps can be as dangerous as driving drunk, and much more common,” Rep. McCarthy said.  “With some basic commonsense rules that are already in place in some parts of the country, we can reduce injuries and save lives in America.”

The Safe Drivers Act of 2011 focuses on two primary efforts.  First, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum regulations that ban the use of hand-held mobile devices on a public road while operating a moving or idling motor vehicle, except in the case of an emergency.  There are exclusions, including voice-operated, vehicle-integrated devices, as well as voice-operated GPS systems.

The bill also requires the DOT to conduct a study on distracted driving, focusing particularly on the issue of cognitive distraction and the impact of distraction on young and inexperienced drivers.  In two years, the DOT must report the findings of this study to Congress and provide recommendations for revising the minimum distracted driving prohibitions and penalties states must comply with.

The penalty for not complying with the DOT’s minimum standards within two years of enactment would be a withholding of 25 percent of a state’s federal highway transportation funding.

The legislation is modeled after the nation’s federal Blood Alcohol Content standard, the violation of which also results in a withholding of federal transportation funds (though no state has been in violation of the federal BAC standard).  States that are penalized can actually receive their funds as soon as they are in compliance with federal law.  Click here to read the full legislation

With a potpourri of laws in different states, including some states with no laws whatsoever limiting cell phone use while driving, distracted driving is rapidly becoming a deadly problem across the nation.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died as a result of driver distraction in 2009, making up about 16 percent of all fatalities as a result of auto crashes that year.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, using a cell phone makes a driver four times more likely to be in an accident that causes injury.

Right now, 13 states have no laws addressing handheld voice calls.  They are Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Ten states have no laws addressing texting while driving.  They are Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota.

Eight states have no laws whatsoever limiting the use of cell phones while driving, whether for voice calls or texting.  They are Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota.

Only 8 states prohibit all drivers – including novice drivers, bus drivers and regular adults – from using handheld cell phones while driving.  They are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, immediately after New York banned cell phone use while driving in 2001, cell phone use declined an estimated 47 percent.  Since then over time, handheld cell phone use by New York Drivers is down an estimated 24 percent.

 Kelly Cline, a Buffalo, NY-area mother who lost her 20-year-old son A.J. Larson in a texting-while-driving accident in 2007 and co-founded the 1,000-member Families Against Texting While Driving organization, gave the Safe Drivers Act of 2011 a very personal endorsement.

“I know all too well the tragic outcome that distracted driving can lead to in a split second,” Ms. Cline said.  “No one should lose their life because of an easily avoidable problem that society hasn’t made a serious issue of.  I hope that what happened to my family serves as a wake-up call to our legislators, and I thank Congresswoman McCarthy for her leadership.  Hopefully we can raise awareness about distracted driving and stop another tragedy from happening.”