Pennsylvania bills call for bans on texting while driving

| 10/16/2009

Multiple efforts in the Pennsylvania statehouse are intended to cut out distracted driving. The legislation is being pursued as more and more states are moving to limit the use of electronic devices to send text messages while at the wheel.

The Pennsylvania Senate endorsed a bill this summer – SB143 – that would make “texting” while driving a secondary offense. Drivers would face $100 fines if they are pulled over for another reason. The bill has since moved to the House Transportation Committee.

Another bill in the House Transportation Committee – HB538 – would prohibit the use of wireless communication devices. The ban would apply to hand-held cell phones and text messaging devices. A violation would be a summary offense carrying a $50 fine.

Exceptions would be made for CB radios and “two-way radio communication devices.”

Supporters say rules must be put in place to rein in the use of hand-held wireless devices that are distracting drivers. State figures show that hand-held cell phones contributed to more than 1,200 crashes on Pennsylvania roadways in 2007. Fewer than 60 crashes were attributed to hands-free cell phones during the same time period.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using electronic devices for texting while driving have intensified in recent months. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has already fueled increased interest in efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

The researchers studied truck drivers for 18 months to come up with their findings. But the results generally applied to all drivers.

New York recently became the 18th state to outlaw texting while driving. More than a dozen states have acted this year alone, with bans in Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire slated to take effect Jan. 1.

The findings have energized lawmakers in states that include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma to pursue legislation during their 2010 sessions to adopt texting bans. More efforts are anticipated as Congress could get involved.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY, filed legislation this summer that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

The majority of people who answered an informal poll on the Land Line site said they support a federal legislative push to ban texting while driving.

The poll question showed 82 percent in favor of a ban. More than 11 percent of respondents answered ‘no’ while 6 percent said they would support a ban only if texting were exempt in certain situations.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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