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Pennsylvania Considers Stiffer Penalties for Distracted Drivers

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Ever since smartphones came into our lives, there have been drivers texting behind the wheel. Though a number of organizations have been working to change driver behavior, texting and driving continues to happen, and in some cases, can result in tragedy.

That was the case on May 7, 2013. On that day, 68-year-old firefighter and former fire chief Daniel Gallatin was riding his motorcycle from his daughter’s home in Hickory Township when an SUV slammed into him, killing him.

The driver, a 43-year-old woman, told police that she didn’t see the motorcycle because she was texting on her cell phone. She later pled guilty to texting while driving and involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 23 months in jail and was released after 60 days.

Family Hopes New Law Will Allow Stiffer Penalties for Distracted Drivers

Daniel’s family, meanwhile, continues to fight for stricture penalties for texting drivers that cause injury and death to others. Though it is legal in Pennsylvania to talk on your cell phone, it’s illegal to text. Police officers, however, rarely give citations for it.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that in 2014, over 3,100 people were killed and over 431,000 injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. They add that the percentage of drivers text-messaging or using handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014. Eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds while texting, which is enough time to cover the length of a football field.

Representative Jaret Gibbons (D-Pennsylvania) sponsored a new bill (House Bill 853), later named “Daniel’s Law,” which came up for a vote on the house floor on May 24, 2016. The bill would have amended Title 75 (Vehicles) and Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to allow for enhanced penalties for those convicted of causing injury or death due to distracted driving.

The ultimate goal is to bring distracted driving penalties closer to those currently in place for driving under the influence (DUI). Additional sentences, for example, would include those of up to five years for when distracted drivers injure or kill someone.

Motorcyclists Support Daniel’s Law

Members of the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE) rallied for the bill at the capitol in May, saying they hoped it would reduce the increasing problem of distracted driving. One of the members of the group told FOX News that after riding motorcycles for 40 years, he believed the highways were more dangerous today than ever before because of people using their cell phones.

Daniel’s daughter, Michelle Gallatin-Baughman, stated that she didn’t want her father’s legacy to be about how he died, but instead, about how many people he helped save with the new bill.

The bill passed the House on June 15, 2016. It was considered by the Senate on June 30,2016, and tabled on July 13, 2016.

 Family Files Distracted Driving Lawsuit Against Driver

Meanwhile, Daniel’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the driver and the two men she was texting before the accident. The suit raises the question about who can be held liable in a distracted driving accident. So far, a Pennsylvania judge has ruled that the suit can proceed.