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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Propose New Restrictions on Cell Phone Use

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Pennsylvania Senators Rob Teplitz and John Wozniak have called for stronger rules on distracted driving.

Data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts shows that police issued 43 percent more distracted driving citations in 2015 than in 2014. Most of these were because of drivers texting while driving.

Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) shows that over 14,800 crashes involving a distracted driver occurred in 2015, causing 66 deaths.

Drivers know now that using phones while behind the wheel can increase their risk of being in an accident, but that’s not stopping many from doing it anyway. Officials say that 25 percent of drivers actually admit to driving distracted.

That may be why the senators co-authored Senate Bill 153, which would prohibit calls on handheld mobile devices while driving, among other things.

Senators Call for Tighter Laws on Mobile Phone Use

It’s already illegal in Pennsylvania to text or email while driving. If you get caught, you’ll likely be issued a $50 fine.

The senators want to take it a step further, so that it’s illegal to make calls on handheld devices. The first violation would also carry a $50 fine. “Distracted driving is a problem in every corner of the state,” said Teplitz during a Capitol news conference, “and it’s not going away. It is still a real problem that endangers motorists, passengers, and bystanders alike. We are all at risk and that’s why we must continue to raise awareness about its dangers and consequences.”

Wozniak agreed, stating that too many lives had “been destroyed and families broken because drivers are distracted and cause injuries or deaths.”

Other States Seek Additional Laws Banning Distracted Driving

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state trying to tighten up the laws on the use of phones while driving. A similar bill was introduced in New Jersey in November 2013, but it has stalled in state legislature. Lawmakers proposed that any activity not related to actual driving should fall under the distracted driving guidelines—and that drivers engaging in these other activities should be penalized accordingly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that, though cell phones remain the biggest concern, other types of distraction that can increase risk of accidents include:

• Eating and drinking
• Reading, including maps
• Grooming
• Using a navigation system
• Adjusting equipment like the radio, mp3 player, etc.
• Talking to passengers

Meanwhile, officers are stepping up enforcement activities, particularly during the month of April, which is national distracted driving month. Data from last year shows that the biggest offenders in Pennsylvania were 20-somethings, who received 40 percent of distracted driving citations. The next highest group was those in their 30s, who got 26 percent of the tickets.

The Pennsylvania DOT issued a press release on April 10, 2016, reminding drivers to focus on the road. Said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards: “Every time someone diverts their attention from the task of driving—even for a second—they are putting themselves and others at risk. Driving is a skill that requires one hundred percent of your attention one hundred percent of the time.”