Pennsylvania bill would restrict drivers' cell phone use

| 7/6/2006

At the urging of Gov. Ed Rendell, a Pennsylvania state lawmaker is calling for a requirement that all drivers in the state keep their hands off the phone.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, has introduced 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 would make it a primary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone. Violators would be fined $250.

Emergency calls would be exempted.

Senators recently approved a separate bill after adding a provision that would make hand-held cell phone usage for drivers a secondary offense. However, the provision was dropped from the bill upon its return to the House because of concerns it was too soft. It required offenders to be pulled over for another offense, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for violating the ban.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. No state prohibits hands-free usage.

Shapiro said restrictions are needed in Pennsylvania because the use of hand-held cell phones contributed to nearly 1,200 crashes in the state in 2004.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking coffee or changing radio stations while driving.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 38 states this year have introduced more than 100 bills addressing driver distraction. Most of those efforts focus on cell phones, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

Shapiro’s bill – HB2821 – is in the House Transportation Committee.