Pennsylvania has joined well over half the states—including New Jersey and Delaware—that prohibit texting while driving.
On November 9th, Governor Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 314 into law, becoming Act 98. This Act makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning a driver can be pulled over even if no other violation is involved. It specifically prohibits all drivers from using an interactive wireless communication device to send, read or write a text-based message while their vehicle is in motion. Such messages include text messages, instant messages, email or other written communication. The law goes into effect on March 8, 2012 and institutes a $50 fine for citations.
Corbett said 13,790 crashes in Pennsylvania were caused in 2010 by distracted driving, which includes more than texting. He said, 1,100 of those accidents involved drivers using a handheld cell phone, and 66 people died because they were not paying attention to how they were driving.
The House could have passed even stronger legislation, but it stripped from the bill a provision that would have required hands-free cellphone use. However, Pennsylvania suburbs have been stricter in implementing their own hands-free mandate. In Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Erie for example, cell phone use by drivers is prohibited unless a hands-free attachment is in use. First time violators of these ordinances are subject to fines ranging from $75-$150. These city ordinances are all currently in effect.
Far fewer states, less than a dozen, New Jersey and Delaware among them, have implemented a statewide hands-free mandate. Delaware’s distracted while driving law took effect on January 2, 2011 and since that time, police agencies across the state have issued some 9,000 citations, each carrying a first-offense penalty of $100. New Jersey has a similar law also carrying a $100 fine for the primary offense of texting while driving that has been in effect since March 1, 2008.
Pennsylvania’s latest ban comes on the heels of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation earlier this month that all states ban the use of cellphones by motorists. The NTSB is an independent agency that investigates transportation accidents and makes recommendations on safety-related issues. It has no authority to regulate, fund, or be directly involved in the operation of any mode of transportation. Lawmakers, however, could conceivably use the agency’s recommendations in crafting legislation. Whether a nationwide ban is on the horizon or not, the state-by-state trend is becoming clear. For motorists in Pennsylvania, you may want to think twice before pulling out your cellphone behind the wheel. Contact an attorney at Fairlie & Lippy if you have been charged with a traffic offense.