Distracted-driver bill advances
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HARRISBURG -- Now that the state House has given overwhelming approval to a bill prohibiting Pennsylvania motorists from gabbing on hand-held cell phones or sending text messages, the focus on the road-safety measure swings to the Senate.
The part of House Bill 2070 that outlaws texting while driving should be a relatively easy sell. Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, noted Tuesday that the Senate enacted its own ban on texting, Senate Bill 143, last year.
"That portion of the bill is something we agree with in concept," he said. However, the jury is still out on whether, or how quickly, the Senate will go along with the House's ban on the pervasive practice of drivers talking on hand-held cell phones.
The bill also would prohibit drivers from using Smart phones, personal digital assistants or portable computers while their vehicle is in motion.
The next step now is for the bill to be discussed by the Senate Transportation Committee, headed by Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery. It isn't known when that will happen.
The driving safety bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, easily passed the House on a 189-6 vote Tuesday. If the Senate goes along and the bill is signed by Gov. Ed Rendell, police could stop and cite drivers they see using hand-held cell phones or sending text messages while behind the wheel.
The bill also prohibits "junior drivers," 16- and 17-year-olds, from using any kind of cell phone or other "wireless interactive communications device" while operating a vehicle. Drivers 18 and older would be allowed to use hands-free cell phones to have conversations.
"We are all just one text [message] from eternity," said Mr. Markosek. But he said the Legislature can only do so much, and urged motorists to exercise caution.He said his constituents have been nearly unanimous in pushing for the ban on hand-held cell phones and texting while driving, which a number of other states already have enacted.
"In the last year we have seen a dramatic change in the public's attitude toward drivers being distracted by use of interactive electronic devices," Mr. Markosek said.
The bill, if it becomes law, would impose a $50 fine on a driver who uses a hand-held cell phone to talk or text. If the offense happens in a school zone or active construction zone, the fine would be doubled.
There are some exceptions to the ban, such as allowing a driver to use a hand-held cell phone to dial 911 in an emergency. Drivers who are stopped in traffic, with their cars shifted into park or neutral gear, also could use them. Also, drivers of emergency vehicles headed toward an emergency would also be exempted.
Mr. Markosek and Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, have pushed for the measure, citing a growing number of horrifying cases where motorists or pedestrians were killed or injured by drivers who became distracted while talking on cell phones or sending text messages. AAA official Brian Newbacher supported the ban on hand-held cell phones and texting, although he also noted that drivers can be distracted when talking on a hands-free cell phone.
"Hands-free cell phone use does not mean risk-free cell phone use," he said. "AAA urges the motoring public to focus on driving and avoid behaviors that result in distracted driving.
While it isn't known when the bill will be debated by the Senate Transportation Committee, the panel today plans to consider another bill that's aimed at reducing distracted driving and also is sponsored by Mr. Markosek.
House Bill 67 has already passed the House. It would pertain only to junior drivers (16 and 17 years old), allowing them to have only one non-family member as a passengers in their car.
First Published January 27, 2010 12:00 am