The Pennsylvania House is once again taking a look at a distracted driving bill. But the measure in front of the Transportation Committee doesn’t go as far as the cell phone ban passed by the chamber last year.
Last session, nearly 200 House members voted for a measure making talking or texting while driving a primary offense. That means police could pull a driver over for using a hand-held cell phone, and nothing else.
However, this measure limits the penalty for distracted driving to a secondary offense. That isn’t enough for Democrat Eugene DePasquale of York County, who’s been pushing the issue for years. “If a secondary law happens, it’s not as if that’s bad. It’s just not as good as I think it could be,” he said. “And the reason why is, a primary law will enable someone – a police officer – to pull someone over for doing it, which could prevent the tragedy. As opposed to fining someone after the tragedy.”
Republican Chris Ross, who authored the new legislation, argued the primary vs. secondary debate is meaningless, and that lawmakers need to just make cell phone use while driving illegal, to start changing drivers’ habits. “It’s not good enough just to make it legislated,” he testified. “We have to actually get a change in behavior. And people’s behavior doesn’t change merely because we pass a law up here. It changes because you first say, this is wrong. We’re making it illegal. And then you follow that up with an aggressive campaign.”
The new measure goes beyond cell phones, increasing already-existing distracted driving fines by $50 if a driver is using “any electronic, electrical, mechanical, personal grooming device, food, drink, book or printed material.”