Pennsylvania distracted driving bill in limbo

| 8/26/2010

While most neighboring states to Pennsylvania have laws banning hand-held cell phones while driving, lawmakers in the Keystone State continue to wrestle over the issue.

Currently, there is no statewide restriction on drivers using cell phones although communities around the state have taken steps to reduce distracted driving.

A statewide effort in Harrisburg to prohibit the use of hand-held devices while at the wheel is running out of time for this year. Despite support on the concept from Gov. Ed Rendell, lawmakers in the state’s House and Senate have been unable to settle on provisions for drivers.

Supporters initially sought to outlaw the use of hand-held devices for talking and texting by all drivers. For teens, passenger restrictions and driver training hours were attached. That version received the approval of the full House.

Senate lawmakers made several changes to the House version. The bill – HB67 – now focuses solely on the state’s youngest drivers. A provision added to the bill makes it a primary offense for teen drivers not wearing seat belts.

Cell phone violations were also amended from a primary offense to a secondary offense, meaning police officers couldn’t pull over potential violators without suspecting them of breaking another law.

House lawmakers voted 189-6 to reject the Senate changes.

“The House sent a clear message. ... We want a strong distracted driving bill that will save lives in Pennsylvania,” Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, said in a statement.

Lawmakers in both chambers now must go back to work to settle their differences if distracted driving legislation is going to advance to the governor’s desk before the regular session wraps up in November.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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