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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session


Posted: February 8, 2023 03:36 PM
From: Senator Rosemary M. Brown
To: All Senate members
Subject: ENHANCED DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY (while operating an interactive wireless communication device)
Before you read any further, please take 3 minutes to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FczgGotn3iU

Imagine sitting at home on a beautiful summer morning when suddenly, your doorbell rings. It’s two State Police officers asking about your child. Confused by their presence, they have now told you your child is no longer alive. Through no fault of your child, a distracted driver crossed multiple lanes of traffic and hit his vehicle head-on, instantly killing him.  How could this be?  Your child did nothing wrong? They were obeying the law, and understood the dangers of distracted driving… yet, they paid the ultimate price. This is not a fictional story, but very much a reality for 9 families every single day, leaving their loved one’s life story unfinished.  We need to remember these events when we are creating policies that balance both freedoms and protections.  While accidents can happen, these are not accidents, they are crashes that could have been avoided with enhanced, responsible driving behaviors.  THE USE OF MOBILE PHONES AND OTHER ELECTRONIC DEVICES WHILE DRIVING HAS EMERGED AS ONE OF THE LEADING CAUSES OF DISTRACTED DRIVING CRASHES, which is why it is the focus of this legislation. 

In the near future, I will be introducing legislation which I prime-sponsored in the House of Representatives, similar to House Bill 37 of 2021-22, prohibiting the use of hand-held interactive wireless communications devices (cellular phones and similar items) while operating a motor vehicle on the roadways of the Commonwealth. This legislation aims to remove the device from the driver’s hands and impose the behavior of utilizing technology behind the wheel with stricter deterrents. The purpose of this legislation is to not penalize drivers but to protect innocent drivers, similar to our Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws.  It is unacceptable to have this increased irresponsible driving occurring on our Pennsylvania roadways and not have laws in place to help build public safety. 
This legislation offers the following strengths for public safety:
·         Primary offense for driving a vehicle while holding or supporting any electronic wireless device, regardless of the driver’s age.
·         No points - $100 Fine
·         A person may only use their wireless device while holding or supporting it when the vehicle is parked on the side or shoulder of a roadway and the vehicle is safely able to remain stationary.
·         GPS can be utilized however, the device must not be held or supported with the body.
·         5-year optional sentence enhancement for those guilty of homicide by vehicle, as well as a violation of the hand-held prohibition during the same incident (mirrors the current texting ban).
·         A parent or guardian must certify their child has viewed educational material on the dangers of distracted driving prior to them receiving a driver’s license.
·         To help educate drivers of the change in the law, this legislation includes a provision directing law enforcement to issue warnings for violations for the first 6 months following the signing of the bill.
·         Increases the fine for texting while driving from $50 to $100; and
·         Clarifies that no person can be cited for both texting while driving and driving while supporting or holding an electronic wireless device.
The AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index found that most drivers (87.5 percent ) believe that distracted driving has outpaced all other traffic-related issues as a growing safety concern and virtually all drivers (96.8 percent) view texting or emailing while driving a serious threat. Listen to their collective voice as an individual holding their phone and viewing it, is unable to simultaneously watch the road, too. Not only is the driver of that car in jeopardy, every other motorist is, as well. Do you want your child driving on the same roadway as this motorist who continually thrashes about their lane, drifting from side-to-side while overcorrecting into your lane? That swerving driver may get home fine today, but tomorrow it could be your family in the crosshairs of their vehicle.

Also, PennDOT’s Safety Plan for the future includes supporting legislation to address and enforce distracted driving. The Pennsylvania State Police and law enforcement are also supporting this initiative and believe these parameters are necessary to assist in improving road safety.

The northeastern region of the Unites States including our border states of New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire and West Virginia ALL ban hand-held cell phone use. Representing a district on the border of both New York and New Jersey, I believe it is not only safer but also more consistent for drivers who frequently travel throughout these border states. While it is important to note and educate drivers that distraction is still present with the use of hands-free technology, removing the use of hand-held mobile telephones is a realistic, achievable and a crucial step to help minimize this distraction and enhance driver responsibility. I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this legislation.

I would also encourage you to read the attached letter from my constituent, Eileen Miller. 

Let’s make a difference in something we all know is a significant road safety concern.  Let’s do what we can to increase driver accountability and responsibility!

If you have any questions regarding this legislation, please contact Christine Zubeck in my office at 717-787-6123 or czubeck@pasen.gov.  Thank you for your consideration.

View Attachment

Introduced as SB37