Pennsylvania Texting Laws
Pennsylvania Distracted Driving Law
1. Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
Pennsylvania's Texting While Driving Stand
On November 9, 2011, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett signed SB 314 into law. The bill, which became effective March 8, 2012, made it possible for law enforcement officers in that state to cite drivers who are texting. They do not need another reason to pull drivers over, but can simply do so because they notice them committing this violation.
Governor Corbett had long wanted a bill passed that would ban cell phone use while driving in addition to the texting restriction. Even so, the portion of the law that would ban cell phone usage was removed before this bill got to the governor’s desk. His signature on the bill was no surprise. During a special ceremony commemorating this event, Corbett reminded Pennsylvania citizens that texting while driving was unacceptable. He asked them to pull over before sending a text message in order to avoid taking a human life on the highway.
Pennsylvania’s texting bill was sponsored by Senator Tommy Tomlinson, a Republican from Bucks. It was widely supported by other Pennsylvania lawmakers and in fact a few similar bills were also submitted. As a result of its widespread support, the bill was passed in the Senate only one day after being voted on in the House of Representatives.
Although cell phone use while driving was omitted from SB 314, several cities in the state have passed ordinances against this. Erie, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre and the state capital of Harrisburg all have ordinances that restrict drivers to using hands-free devices while talking. Allentown had also enacted a cell phone ban, but it was ruled unlawful by a county judge there. Even though these towns have enacted such laws, it seems they are now unenforceable. As a result, drivers throughout the state may still use handheld devices to talk while operating a motor vehicle.
Texting and driving was not the only motor vehicle law recently passed in Pennsylvania. HB 9 was also signed in to law recently by the governor. This law places added restrictions on beginning drivers, but ironically does not contain provisions against texting or using cell phones. The new bill is known as “Lacey’s Law” because it was passed in honor of a teenager in Philadelphia who was recently killed in a motor vehicle accident.
In addition to placing restrictions on texting and driving, SB 314 also addresses other issues that may arise as a result of its passage. For example, the bill specifies how revenue from texting citations will be used. It also makes it mandatory for the state to provide an education program about the dangers of texting and driving.
The new law provides for a fine of up to $100 for each occurrence of texting and driving. This amount may be doubled in school zones or areas of construction. In addition to the monetary fine, a driver will be assessed one penalty point against his or her driver’s license.
One of the reasons why passing this bill was such an important priority is because of the increase in traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania. Although this number decreased nationwide, the number of fatalities was higher here in 2010 than in previous years. In all, 66 deaths were attributed to distracted driving, and 1,100 accidents in all resulted from the use of cell phones.
According to state representative Kathy Watson, this bill received a great deal of bipartisan support largely because people from all over the state have been affected by tragedies resulting from distracted driving. It seems that nearly every district in the state has seen a traffic death due to texting and driving. She claims that the operators who are most vulnerable to having an accident while driving are very young ones ages 16 ½ to 18. Watson, a Republican, hopes that the education program will result in more people realizing that texting while driving is dangerous and therefore deciding not to participate in this activity.
Pennsylvania officials hope that SB 314 is a step toward reducing traffic fatalities, especially among teenage drivers. They are looking to neighboring Delaware as an example of how passing distracted driving laws can save lives. Delaware has very stringent distracted driving laws and recently saw a 14% drop in traffic-related deaths as a result of their new legislation. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has seen an increase in teenage deaths in recent years. They recorded 57 teenage fatalities in 2010, which was an increase from 40 deaths in 2009.
At least one lawmaker in Pennsylvania isn’t willing to stop at the texting and driving ban. Representative Josh Shapiro claims he is not giving up on getting stricter distracted driving legislation passed in this state. He would like to ban hand-held cell phones while driving and plans to introduce further legislation to address this issue. Shapiro claims he has approximately 50 co-sponsors for his bill. According to this representative, the issue of distracted driving is a bi-partisan issue. He claims that the issue is one that will unite lawmakers across party lines and will eventually result in safer highway conditions for the citizens of Pennsylvania.