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PA Becomes 27th State to Ban Handheld Devices While Driving

PA Becomes 27th State to Ban Handheld Devices While Driving

This week, the PA legislature passed Senate Bill 37, introduced by Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe), making it illegal to use a handheld device while driving. The bill now goes to Governor Shapiro for his signature, which he has said he will provide. This legislation, which was supported by PMTA, expands on the 2012 state texting law by allowing a driver to be cited for using a handheld device without another traffic offense. It sets the fine at $50.

Commercial drivers using a device for purposes of their job (according to regulations promulgated under 49 U.S.C. section 31136) are excepted from the law. Other exceptions include devices used for navigation purposes only, emergency notification, ham radio operators, and when a device is affixed to a mass transit or school bus. Devices being used in a hands-free manner are also excepted.

Provisions related to educating young people about the dangers of distracted driving are also included in the bill. SB 37 requires PennDOT to incorporate information in the driver’s manual on distracted driving and to include at least one question on the topic on the driver’s test. It also requires parents/guardians to certify that minors have viewed information on the dangers of distracted driving on PennDOT’s website.

Police are prohibited from charging a driver for both using a handheld device and texting while driving at the same time and place. It also disallows the seizure of an electronic device unless otherwise provided for in the law.

An amendment was added in the House of Representatives that requires state and local police in communities of more than 5,000 to collect data related to race, ethnicity, gender, and age of drivers during traffic stops. The PA State Police must produce an annual report of this information.

PennDOT data shows that there were more than 11,262 distracted driving crashes in 2023. When compared to 8,330 alcohol-related crashes that year, it is clear that distracted driving is a bigger highway safety issue than DUI.

The ban takes effect in one year. For the first 12 months after that, police will issue written warnings only.

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