A bill now under consideration in the state House of Representatives has a sharp and important focus — reducing driver distraction by getting cellular phones out of drivers’ hands.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Rosemary M. Brown, R-189 of Monroe and Pike counties and co-sponsored by state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, would prohibit the use of hand-held devices for phone calls or texting while driving. The proposed law would still allow adult drivers to have hands-free use of electronic devices.
The bill also would prohibit any use of any electronic device, including those that are hands free, by drivers under the age of 18, and would require parents or guardians to certify that their child has viewed educational materials on the dangers of distracted driving prior to receiving their driver’s license.
If adopted, those who violate these provisions would face a $200 fine, with $25 of the fine going to the issuing police agency and $175 deposited into the Distracted Driving Awareness Fund to be used for educational purposes.
The state Department of Transportation reports that 15,614 accidents resulting in 58 deaths were caused by distracted driving — including texting and cellphone use — in 2017, the most recent year for which the statistics are available.
In a memo to her fellow lawmakers, Rep. Brown noted that in 2015, there were 3,196 fatal crashes across the nation — 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. — triggered by distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Local police chiefs told us this past week that they hope the bill is adopted and that it strengthens existing law that prohibits drivers from texting and driving.
Police said the current law has too many loopholes and that it is difficult to enforce because it still allows drivers to hold cellphones while making phone calls or using the device for GPS directional functions.
“This legislation aims to remove the device from the driver’s hands and return their focus to the one and only thing they should be doing — DRIVING!,” Rep. Brown wrote in her memo.
A total of 20 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have done this, banning all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Teens and novice drivers are banned from all cellphone use in 38 states, and 48 states, including Pennsylvania, ban text messaging for all drivers.
We agree that Pennsylvania should join the 20 states that ban hand-held use of cellphones. Fumbling with a phone in your hands is clearly a distraction and distractions, while driving, can lead to death or serious injuries.
“It’s time to put a stop to the distraction,” Rep. Brown writes in her memo to her fellow lawmakers. “Just because we can stay connected when we drive does not mean that we should. No email, no text, no selfie is worth a human life.”
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.