Driver distractions targeted in Pennsylvania

| 10/5/2007

To improve safety on Pennsylvania roadways, a bill in the statehouse would prohibit drivers in the state from talking on hand-held cell phones and text messaging while driving.

A bill offered by Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, would outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted.

The measure – HB1827 – would make using a hand-held device a primary offense. Violators would face $50 fines. Exceptions would be made for emergency calls.

Another bill under consideration at the capitol focuses on text messaging while at the wheel. Sponsored by Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, it would prohibit operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages on an electronic wireless device, such as a Blackberry.

People found to be “texting” while driving would face $100 fines. It also would be considered a primary offense.

Supporters of the legislative efforts point to figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Agency data shows there were 1,241 crashes in the state in 2006 involving drivers who used hand-held devices. Only 60 crashes involved drivers using hands-free devices.

Opponents of cell phone restrictions say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving. Others say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California and Washington are slated to implement their own rules.

Only Washington has included “texting” while driving in their ban.

Shapiro’s bill is in the House Transportation Committee. DePasquale’s bill – HB1506 – also is in the House Transportation Committee. They are expected to be taken up for consideration in committee on Oct. 15.

Both bills must pass through the House and Senate before the Legislature finishes up their work by the end of the year.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor