Hoping to beef up Pennsylvania’s driver safety laws, State Representative Josh Shapiro recently introduced a bill (H.B. 330) that would ban the use of handheld cell phones for talking or texting while operating a motor vehicle on Pennsylvania roadways. If passed, the bill would also prohibit junior drivers from using both hands-free and handheld devices while driving, as well as increase the number of educational hours required to obtain a junior driver’s license and limit the number of passengers in vehicles driven by junior drivers. Endorsed by 65 bipartisan cosponsors, highway safety experts hope the bill will pass this time around. A similar bill failed last year.
Legal efforts to prohibit cell phone use and particularly text messaging while driving are supported by Pearce Law Firm lawyers, law enforcement officers and highway safety experts across the state. Since 2003, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation statistics indicate that cell phone use has been a contributing factor in 6,877 traffic accidents in Pennsylvania at a cost to taxpayers of $136 million.
According to a National Safety Council study released last week, 28% of all traffic accidents nationwide are caused by cell phone use or texting. Nationally, 1.4 million auto accidents each year are caused by distracted drivers talking on cell phones and 200,000 accidents are caused by texting drivers. A distracted driver talking on a cell phone or trying to read or send a text message is 3 to 4 times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident. Comparative studies have shown that driving while talking or texting is the equivalent of driving drunk. While most state laws on the issue only prohibit handheld devices but allow hands-free devices such as BlueTooth receivers, the Washington Post recently reported that 120 studies have shown that using a hands-free device is as distracting to drivers as using a handheld cell phone.