Radio PA Roundtable – April 15-17, 2016

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, a medical marijuana bill now sits on Governor Tom Wolf’s desk; a state lawmaker takes on distracted driving; and lawmakers want to make it easier on schools during a state budget impasse, but is their effort really a veiled attempt to make it easier on them when they don’t do their jobs?

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Distracted Drivers Do More than Talk and Text According to AAA Survey

A new AAA survey shows drivers who use their cell phones often may also be engaging in other risky behavior behind the wheel.

Just over half of the drivers who use a cell phone also admitted to sending a text or email behind the wheel. 65% say they speed, 44% drive drowsy and 29% do not use their seat belt according to the survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid-Atlantic says more than one in four young drivers admitted checking or updating social media behind the wheel.

Robinson says responding to the phone can become a habit; you hear the phone go off and you want to respond right away.  She says it’s better to put your phone on “silent” when you’re driving, so you don’t have that distraction.  The other option is to consider an app that will send an automatic response while you are driving.

Robinson says using a cell phone behind the wheel can quadruple your crash risk.

A Pennsylvania law that bans texting while driving took effect last March. Robinson says it does take some time to get awareness of new laws and to increase education about the dangers of this behavior.


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.

PennDOT says “Just Drive”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation  has launched a new effort to highlight safety for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  It’s a simple message, “Just Drive”.

Spokeswoman Erin Waters says drivers need to focus on the task at hand.  She says your only responsibility while driving, is to focus on driving.  

Waters says they want people to consider they have their own life and the lives of people around them in their hands.

It’s not only a slogan; it’s also a web Waters says it has resources for drivers and information on distracted driving.  According to estimates for 2011, more than 14 thousand crashes in Pennsylvania involved a distracted driver, resulting in 58 fatalities.

Waters says drivers also need to wear their seatbelts, not drive impaired and look out for pedestrians, motorcycles and all other vehicles.

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.

Texting While Driving

AAA Asks Drivers To Take The Distraction Free Challenge

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is recognizing “Heads Up Driving Week” by asking people to take the distraction free driving pledge.  The fourth annual Traffic Safety Culture Index finds that 95% of drivers view texting or emailing by other drivers as a serious threat to their safety. However, 35% of drivers admit to reading or sending a text or email behind the wheel within the last month.

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid-Atlantic says you can take the pledge by visiting She says everyone thinks it’s the “other person who doesn’t know how to drive safely while texting, but I do.”  She says that’s the attitude many people have, and AAA is trying to change it.

Robinson says 88% of drivers feel people talking on cell phones while driving are a serious threat to their safety, but 68% admit to talking and driving in the last month.  She says it’s another example of “do as I say, not as I do.”   

 Robinson says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates over 54 hundred people were   killed in crashes that reportedly involved distracted driving in 2009. She says we see people using their cell phones while driving all the time.  She says it’s a little harder to quantify the full impact in the crash data.

Robinson says it’s so tempting to want to pick up the phone and read the text message when the phone goes off while you’re driving.  But she says please don’t do it, we know that it’s not safe.

Navigating the Turnpike? There’s an “App” for That

PA Turnpike TRIP Talk "app"

The PA Turnpike's new TRIP Talk smartphone app actually talks to you.

Keeping with the Turnpike’s plea to ‘keep your thumbs on the wheel,’ the new TRIP Talk app is both hands-free and eyes-free.  “As you move through the Turnpike or toward the Turnpike, using GPS location, it will read you – verbally – read you and alert of traffic situations that you’re coming upon,” says Turnpike COO Craig Shuey. 

The Turnpike partnered with Philadelphia-based Voicenet to develop the cutting-edge application, which provides Turnpike travelers with real-time information.  “Basically, as soon as we know it… it’ll pop up… and you’ll hear it,” Shuey says. 

 The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is announcing the new smartphone app just in time for the busy Labor Day travel weekend.  Spokesman Bill Capone estimates that more than 2-million motorists will use the Turnpike over the Labor Day travel period. 

Users are advised to launch the application before hitting the road.  State Police Troop T Commanding Officer Kathy Jo Winterbottom says it will enhance the safety of all Turnpike travelers.  “I applaud the Turnpike Commission’s efforts to develop this new way of telling drivers what lies ahead on the highway.”  

The free smartphone app is available for android or iPhone devices.  No registrations or subscriptions are necessary. 

Everything was running smoothly on the Turnpike when this reporter tried to fire up TRIP Talk on Friday morning, but the Turnpike Commission loaded a Labor Day message so we could give it a test drive.

Texting While Driving

Corbett Would Sign Driver Cell Phone Ban

Delaware, Maryland and New York all ban hand-held cell phones and texting behind the wheel.  Will Pennsylvania be next?  Governor Tom Corbett would sign such legislation.  Responding to a listener email on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program, Corbett described how he spends a lot of time on the road these days.  Invariably, Corbett says, they’ll pull up beside an erratic driver to find them “texting away.” 

It’s not a new issue in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, but one of the big holdups has often been whether to make this sort of distracted driving a primary or secondary offense.  Governor Corbett says it doesn’t matter to him, and it doesn’t seem to matter to advocates at AAA either.  “A motorist out there really doesn’t know the difference between primary and secondary.  A law’s a law,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Jim Lardear. 

For instance, Pennsylvania’s seat-belt law is a secondary offense, but PennDOT reports the use rate was 86% last year.   

Two bills currently await additional action in the state House.  HB 8 originally addressed only texting while driving, but it was amended to add hand-held cell phones as a primary offense.  SB 314 originally made both actions a secondary offense, but it was amended to make texting while driving a primary offense.