Distracted Driving Debate Gets Jump-Start

Six months into Pennsylvania’s texting-while-driving ban, there’s already a push for the state to do more.  Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, wants to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

Markosek’s new bill would mirror the texting ban in terms of enforcement and penalties.  Hand-held cell phone use behind the wheel would be a primary offense punishable by a $50-dollar fine.  No points would be tacked onto the offender’s license, and the phone could not be confiscated.

“As much as we would like to think that, okay, we’ve got the texting ban passed and we can wash our hands of everything… and everything will be fine,” Markosek says, “we are just deluding ourselves into thinking that.”

Some police officers are backing the more comprehensive cell phone ban language too, because they’re finding it difficult to enforce a texting-only ban.  “How can we say they are pushing letters rather than numbers, and that they weren’t in fact using their cell phone?” asks Allentown Police Captain Daryl Hendricks.

But Pennsylvania’s texting ban was a product of compromises, and the will was not there to include a comprehensive cell phone ban this session.  “We have a lot of unsafe driving habits that not only are due to hand-held cell phones, but they’re due to Big Macs and shakes,” says Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson).  “I don’t know how we empower law enforcement to crack down on all types of unsafe driving.”

For his part, Markosek knows the bill likely won’t see action this session, but he’s hoping to set it up to be a priority when the 2013-2014 session of the General Assembly convenes next year.  “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.  It is about the safety of our citizens.”

Ten states already ban hand-held cell phones for all drivers.  32-states ban all cell phones for teen drivers.

Texting Ban to Take Effect in March

As of March 8th Pennsylvania motorists can be pulled over for sending a text message while behind the wheel.  When he signed the texting ban into law this week, Governor Tom Corbett urged Pennsylvanians to ‘drive now, text later.’  “There is no text message in the world that is worth the value of a human life,” Corbett says.

While the data cannot be broken down specifically to text messages, Pennsylvania saw nearly 14,000 distracted driving crashes in 2010.  Almost 1,100 were blamed on the operation of hand-held cell phones.

“We have been advocating for a no texting law in all 50 states,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Jenny Robinson.  “With Pennsylvania taking effect, that brings it up to 35, so we’ve got 15 to go.”

This could get you a $50 fine, after March 8th.

State Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) was the prime sponsor of SB 314, which has been repeatedly amended over the past several months.  But, Tomlinson is pleased with the final product.  “Distracted driving is dangerous, and texting is deadly,” Tomlinson says.  He still anticipates the House will take up separate legislation to address the issue of talking on hand-held cell phones while driving.

Pennsylvania’s new texting-while-driving ban will be a primary offense, which means it can be the sole reason for a traffic stop.  Violators will be slapped with a $50 fine, but will be spared from having points added to their license.  Police will also be prohibited from confiscating an offender’s wireless device.

Texting While Driving Ban on its Way to Governor’s Desk

Pennsylvania could soon become the 35th state to ban all drivers from texting behind the wheel.  With a 45 – 5 vote in the Senate, Tuesday, a bill to ban texting while driving is on its way to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.  “It’s no question that it’s distractive, it’s no question that it’s dangerous, and it’s also in many instances deadly,” Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) said during a speech on the Senate floor.  Tomlinson is the prime sponsor of SB 314

The bill received bipartisan support in the House too, passing the chamber with a 188 – 7 vote on Monday.  “It’s been almost five years working on this,” State Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) tells Radio PA.  “I think it will make the roadways of Pennsylvania safer, and at the end of the day I think it’s a stronger piece of legislation than when it started.” 

The final version of the bill would make texting while driving a primary offense, which means a police officer could pull a driver over solely for texting.  The offense would come with a $50 fine, but points would not be added to a driver’s record and police could not seize a driver’s phone. 

Governor Tom Corbett made his support of a texting ban clear, last month, while signing a new teen driver law.  “Literally the other day, somebody was driving with their elbows and texting in the fast lane of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Corbett recalled. 

Pennsylvania is currently one of only ten states with no law on the books concerning texting while driving.  The issue of talking on handheld cellphones is being addressed in a separate bill, which awaits state House action.

State Capitol Facing North Office Building

Senate Approves Drivers Cell Phone Ban

Texting While Driving

Texting While Driving Would be a Primary Offense Under SB 314

Texting while driving would be a primary offense.  Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving would be a secondary offense, under legislation that passed the State Senate Wednesday afternoon.  It started out as a simple secondary offense texting ban, but Tommy Tomlinson’s bill was amended in committee to include hand-held cell phones and other language.  On the floor, Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) was successful in changing the texting violation to a primary offense, which means it can be the sole reason a driver is stopped by police.  Violators would face a $100-dollar fine.    

“I personally argue that the whole bill should be a primary offense,” Ferlo tells us, “But I’m in the minority on this issue, so I thought it was tactically appropriate to try to win majority support… on the issue of text messaging.”  The Senate vote was 41 – 8 on the bill, as amended.  Senator Tomlinson (R-Bucks) supports the bill in its current form, but knows the process isn’t over.  “I don’t believe this is the final version of this bill.  I still think there will be continued negotiations and compromise,” Tomlinson said on the Senate floor. 

Up next for the bill is the State House, where a tougher distracted driving bill was amended with bipartisan support last month.  However, that legislation has not yet been brought up for final votes.  33-states currently ban texting while driving.  9-states have banned talking on hand-held cell phones behind the wheel.