Pennsylvania bill restricting young drivers fails

| 12/12/2008

A failed effort in Pennsylvania sought to put new restrictions on the youngest drivers in the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, the bill – HB2674 – remained in the House Appropriations Committee when the regular session ended this past month, effectively killing it for the year. The legislative effort can be brought back for consideration during the regular session, which starts in January.

The bill called for restricting the most inexperienced drivers to one passenger under 18 at a time. Exceptions would have been made for family members.

Similar passenger limitations are in place in nearly 40 states.

Advocates said 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 have been required to put down handheld wireless devices, such as a BlackBerry, and laptop computers while at the wheel. The restriction would have applied to cell phone use and text messaging.

Exceptions would have been made for emergency calls. Violators would have faced $100 fines.

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

Another provision in the bill required 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 called for boosting the training time to 65 hours. It included 10 hours of nighttime training and five hours of experience driving during inclement weather.

A separate provision would have clearly forbidden 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 sought to amend the law to prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying a “television broadcast or video signal.”

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor