Legislation moving through the Pennsylvania House would make the Keystone State the 20th state to approve a ban on text messaging while driving.
The House Transportation Committee voted unanimously to send to the House floor for action a bill – HB2070 – that would prohibit all drivers from “texting” and ban teens with drivers’ permits or junior licenses from using any cell phone or electronic devices while at the wheel.
Violations would be a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could pull over drivers solely for using communication devices. Offenders would face fines up to $50. The fine would increase to $100 if the texting occurred in areas that include an active work zone, a highway safety corridor or an emergency response area. Exceptions will be made for emergency calls.
Supporters say rules must be put in place to rein in the use of hand-held wireless devices that are distracting drivers. State figures show that hand-held cell phones contributed to more than 1,200 crashes on Pennsylvania roadways in 2007. Fewer than 60 crashes were attributed to hands-free cell phones during the same time period.
Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using electronic devices for texting while driving have intensified this year. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has fueled increased interest in efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.
More than a dozen states have acted this year alone to limit distractions. Earlier this month, New York and Rhode Island became the 13th and 14th states to enforce bans on the practice of operating a motor vehicle while texting. Colorado and North Carolina bans are slated to take effect Dec. 1. Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire are scheduled to start enforcing their laws Jan. 1.
The trend is unlikely to slow as state lawmakers prepare to convene their 2010 regular sessions and the topic continues to receive attention in Congress.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY, have offered legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, said the state could lose up to $149 million annually under that scenario if it fails to enact a texting ban.
A similar effort in Congress by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, would include a restriction on cell phone use with the ban on texting while driving. This version would dole out $30 million in grants to states that pass laws to curb distracted driving.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to help reduce distracted driving.
The Association would like to see more ride-alongs with law enforcement agencies. OOIDA says the experience allows officers to sit in the cab and see firsthand how people drive around trucks. Such programs could also lead to better enforcement of existing traffic laws.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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