By Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike)
As a parent and legislator, I have strived to continue shedding light on the importance of roadway safety, especially distracted driving, not only to my children but to all Pennsylvanians. One of the most common forms of distracted driving that we witness every day is the use of cellphones behind the wheel. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the road and have seen drivers texting, talking or taking their picture while driving – it’s a daily occurrence. Not only does this act endanger the driver, but it endangers everyone around them.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2019 Pennsylvania alone saw over a thousand lives lost due to distracted driving, with the U.S. distracted driving death toll reaching over 36,000 lives lost.
We are constantly hearing stories where families are being notified by police that their loved one(s) tragically perished due to the negligence of a distracted driver. No parent or child should ever have to witness such a sight or experience such a devastating loss – especially since that loss could have been avoided had the driver been paying attention to the road more than their cellphone.
One of my close friends, now distracted driving advocate, Eileen Miller, and her husband, Paul, had to go through this tragic experience, when a distracted tractor trailer driver struck their 21-year old son, Paul Miller Jr.’s car on State Route 33 in 2010, killing him instantly.
It is because of stories and experiences like this that I have been fighting for over six years to pass legislation that would curb this irresponsible behavior and hold distracted drivers accountable for their actions. For the 2021-22 Legislative Session, I have partnered with Rep. Steve Malagari (D-Montgomery) to again introduce Enhanced Driver Responsibility legislation, House Bill 37
, which would allow drivers to realistically use their communication device. However, the device must be “hands-free” with the use of Bluetooth or a docking station. Drivers would not be permitted to physically hold their communication device while operating a vehicle. This would help reduce distraction and cultivate more responsible driving and, hopefully, less overall cellphone use while behind the wheel.
Additionally, should this legislation be enacted into law, it would also:
• Make driving a vehicle while holding or supporting any electronic wireless device, regardless of the driver’s age, a primary offense that carries a $100 fine (with no points on a license).
• Increase the fine for texting while driving from $50 to $100.
• Clarify that no person can be cited for both texting while driving and driving while supporting or holding an electronic wireless device at the same time.
• Create a five-year optional sentence enhancement for those guilty of homicide by vehicle, as well as a violation of the hand-held prohibition during the same incident (mirrors the current texting ban).
• Ensure a person under the age of 18 prior to taking a driver’s exam view educational materials provided on PennDOT’s site on the dangers of distracted driving.
• Require the portion of the examination on traffic laws to contain at least one question on distracted driving.
I am proud to say that this legislation was unanimously approved by the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, March 23 and will hopefully go before the full House for consideration in the next several weeks!
This bill is also supported by the Pennsylvania State Police, AAA, Pennsylvania Manufactured Housing Association, Pennsylvania School Bus Association, Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police, Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, PennDOT, Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association, Northeastern PA Trial Lawyers Association, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania, National Safety Council, Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, American Trauma Society, Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Association for Justice!
While cellphones and other interactive communication devices do enable us to keep in touch with our families and work while we’re on the go, it is always important to keep in mind that there are times and places to use them. The best cellphone use while driving is still no cellphone use; however, House Bill 37 works to balance the use of technology while increasing this driver responsibility.
We need to realize that the drivers we pass when traveling aren’t just people – they are someone’s mother, father, son, daughter or friend. In order to keep people safe and preserve overall road safety, we need to keep our hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and stay focused on what is ahead of us – not the screens below.
Representative Rosemary M. Brown
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Abby Chiumento