You might think that a state with so many busy interstate highways would have some of the nation’s strictest laws regarding the use of hand-held devices. Currently, it doesn’t.
In fact, a recent comparison of distracted driving laws across the country by a telecommunications website gave our state a “D.” While texting behind the wheel can get drivers a $50 fine, there’s no regulation against using a phone or other hand-held device for other purposes, like talking. Further, there are no special regulations regarding hand-held devices for those under 18, as there are in many states.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the number of fatalities caused by distracted driving is going in the wrong direction. It rose from 60 in 2021 to 80 in 2022 although the true numbers may be higher as those statistics only reflect crashes where a driver didn’t admit to being on their phone or the police didn’t note that fact.
The problem with prohibiting the use of hand-held devices only for texting is that it can be impossible for law enforcement to determine precisely what someone is or was doing on their phone without going in and looking at the activity. That can have privacy implications.
Could there be a hands-free law?
One state senator is working to pass a law that would ban the use of hand-held devices by drivers. The bill makes an exception for GPS navigation. It would also start with a 12-month period where police could only issue warnings.
The bill has also gained support in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as well as from Gov. Josh Shapiro. Safety advocates, some of whom have lost children to distracted drivers, are strongly campaigning for a hands-free law like some other states and Washington, D.C. have.
In the meantime, it’s crucial to be on the lookout for drivers who are distracted by their phones (or anything else). If someone causes a crash because they were more focused on a conversation or even a game or video than on their driving, you have the right to seek justice and compensation.