Pennsylvania bill would put limits on young drivers

| 11/19/2008

In the time left until the Pennsylvania General Assembly wraps up its work for the year, one bill that could draw consideration would put new restrictions on the youngest drivers in the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, the bill would restrict the most inexperienced drivers to one passenger under 18 at a time. Exceptions would be made for family members.

Similar passenger limitations are in place in nearly 40 states.

Advocates say the intention of the restriction is to reduce the amount of chatter, commotion and other “distractions” that hamper inexperienced drivers.

Teens with learner’s permits and 16- and 17-year-olds with junior driver’s licenses also would be required to put down handheld wireless devices, such as a BlackBerry, and laptop computers while at the wheel. The restriction would apply to cell phone use and text messaging.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls. Violators would face $100 fines.

Opponents say there already are laws to prevent distracted and unsafe driving. Others say that using the phone while at the wheel isn’t a distraction for drivers, including teens, who are responsible.

Another provision in the bill would require aspiring drivers to spend more time practicing before obtaining licenses. Existing state law requires a permit holder to complete 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training, have their learner’s permit for six months before taking a driver’s exam, and have an adult at least 21 years old with them in a vehicle.

Markosek’s bill would boost the training time to 65 hours. It would include 10 hours of nighttime training and five hours of experience driving during inclement weather.

A separate provision would clearly forbid drivers from watching television while behind the wheel. State law already prohibits drivers from watching any device that receives a television broadcast if it’s located in front of the back of the driver’s seat or is visible to the driver.

In addition, the bill would amend the law to prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying a “television broadcast or video signal.”

HB2674 is in the House Appropriations Committee. For passage, the bill must clear the House and Senate before the Assembly’s scheduled adjournment on Nov. 30.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor