At last week’s priority bus conference, the keynote speaker, Roy Kienitz, the Undersecretary for Policy at the US Department of Transportation, began his remarks by describing his reaction to the ease with which the Obama Administration increased CAFE standards in January. His point was that we are in a political moment where that which once seemed impossible is sometimes even easy, that the rules of the game are totally different than we have been taught to believe.
Looking at the Post’s write-up of new laws passed in Maryland and Virginia, I think I know how he feels. For as long as I’ve really been paying attention, nearly all news is bad news. This was particularly true at the federal level, but goodness knows that local and state policy on transportation and land use have been bad since around the Hoover Administration.
So I found reading that Post article to be a sort of giddy, not quite real experience. Both states ban drivers from texting or e-mailing while they drive. Virginia put in tougher drunk driving laws and allows courts to rescind the drivers licenses of truant students. In other words, VA is acknowledging that driving is both very dangerous and not a right. Maryland is also increasing restrictions on teen drivers and is allowing local governments to use cameras to catch speeders. Again, good steps to make sure that 3000 pound pieces of metal are treated as if their use might be dangerous.
There are also lots of non-transportation goodies in there – a smoking ban in VA restaurants, new rights for MD domestic partners, competition for campus bookstores, and more, but it seems that the big headline items (except for the smoking ban) are all related to making driving safer for everyone. Good news – weird!