Two Pennsylvania bills would restrict drivers' cell phone use

| Friday, August 05, 2005

A pair of bills in the Pennsylvania General Assembly would require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phone. A third measure would prohibit young drivers from using any phone while behind the wheel.

Sen. Joe Conti, R-Doylestown, has sponsored a bill that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

The measure, SB675, would make it a summary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone. Violators would face a $250 fine.

An effort – HB945 – by Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Emmuas, would prohibit the usage of hand-held devices by drivers on roads with speed limits higher than 25 mph.

Both bills would exempt emergency calls.

Currently, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. However, a half dozen states forbid young drivers to gab on the phone while behind the wheel.

A bill from Rep. Craig Dally, R-Nazareth, would add Pennsylvania to that list.

HB1776 would prohibit drivers with learner’s permits or junior driver’s licenses from using their cell phone. Violators would face as much as a $300 fine or community service. Emergency calls would be exempted.

“The purpose of this bill is to make sure that young drivers are dedicated to the responsibility of driving a car,” Dally said in a written statement. “Driving an automobile should never be considered a casual or secondary activity.”

The bills have been introduced as more studies underline the risks and dangers of driving while talking on the phone.

One of the more recent studies found that using cell phones while driving can distract drivers, regardless of whether they’re using a hands-free device.

The human brain can’t simultaneously give full attention to both auditory and visual tasks, according to research by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device,” Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the university, said in a press release.

“When attention is deployed to one modality – say, in this case, talking on the cell phone – it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality – in this case, the visual task of driving.”

In other words, if you’re on the phone, your brain can’t devote as much attention to driving.

SB675, HB945 and HB1776 are before their respective chambers’ transportation panels.