Pa. lawmakers push to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving | TribLIVE.com
Pennsylvania

Pa. lawmakers push to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving

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AP
A driver talks on a cell phone while driving through the Financial District of Boston.

A bill to ban certain uses of cellphones by Pennsylvania drivers has advanced in Harrisburg, and its sponsor believes motorists’ confusion about laws when they cross state borders — something they will be doing frequently of over Thanksgiving — is an argument for approval.

State Rep. Rosemary Brown, a Monroe County Republican, early this year filed the bill to ban hand-held cellphone use by drivers. It received approval from the House Transportation Committee and is awaiting action by the full House.

Brown’s district borders the Pennsylvania-New Jersey state line. New Jersey, like four other states that border Pennsylvania — New York, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia — has a ban in place.

“Consistency for drivers going state-to-state who do that on a daily basis” is important, Brown said, in addition to what she described as the common sense knowledge that driving without holding a cellphone is safer.

According to the American Automobile Association, 55 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. An AAA spokeswoman said that figure represents a 2.9% increase from last year and, if it pans out, would be second-highest total on record.

In Pennsylvania, many of those travelers will cross a state line that represents an abrupt change in cellphone law.

Brown said her bill would still allow drivers to use hands-free devices.

“You are less distracted,” Brown said of hands-free devices. “And it has been shown in states that implement these laws, cellphone use goes down.”

Twenty states — including five of the six states that border Pennsylvania — have banned hand-held use by all drivers. Others have banned hand-held use by young drivers.

Organizations including the Pennsylvania State Police and the AAA support a driver ban on using a hand-held cellphone. The Brown bill is one of at least two that seeks to accomplish that goal.

The other was filed by state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, an Allegheny County Democrat. He and Brown said the main pushback comes from independent-minded drivers.

“The opposition comes from the people who say it is their right to do what they want to do,” DeLuca said.

Legislative efforts to stop drivers from using hand-held phones go back at least 20 years.

Former state Rep. David Mayernik, a Democrat who represented an Allegheny County district from 1982 through 2002, filed a bill in 1999 that would have made hand-held cell phone use by Pennsylvania drivers illegal, but permitted them to use hands-free devices.

“The telecommunications companies were opposed,” Mayernik said. “To me it was about common sense and saving lives.”

Years later, Allentown adopted a ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving, but it was dropped after a judge ruled that only the state — not a municipality — can enact such a law.

A fact sheet distributed by the National Motorists Association called cellphone bans “poor public policy.” A spokeswoman, Shelia Dunn, said a ban in Pennsylvania would add to numerous driving safety laws already on the books.

Drivers, and even police, get confused when too many laws apply to a situation, according to Dunn.

She called managing hand-held cellphones a “tricky issue” that was comparable to seat belt use in its ability to infringe upon personal decisions made by drivers.

“Motorists have to determine what their level of distraction can be” and still operate a car safely, Dunn said. “It should be about individual responsibility.”

Brown, the sponsor of the bill, said, “I am all for liberty and freedom. But when you are affecting the safety of drivers, then the government has to be involved.”

Police, she said, have a difficult time enforcing no-texting-while-driving laws in Pennsylvania and other states. She acknowledged enforcing a cellphone law would be a challenge.

But, she said, common sense indicated roads would be safer.

A state police spokesman said the organization supports the bill because it would eliminate a driving distraction.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Alexis Campbell, said the agency encouraged the use of hands-free technology to talk while driving and discouraged the use of cellphones. But she said PennDOT was neutral on the bill.

Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for the AAA region that includes Pennsylvania, said it supports the Brown bill.

“If we take our eyes off the road just two seconds to look down, it doubles our chances of being involved in a collision,” she said.

Categories: News | Pennsylvania | Top Stories
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