HARRISBURG – The Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) and supported by Senator John Rafferty, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee that would prohibit the use of handheld cell phones and texting while driving and set new guidelines for junior drivers.
Tomlinson said Senate Bill 314 would impose a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers, regardless of age. Hands-free cell phone use would still be permitted by drivers who do not have a learners permit or junior driver’s license. The bill would make it a primary offense for all drivers to text, email, browse the internet and instant message. SB 314 would make it a secondary offense to use a cell phone while driving – meaning the driver would have to first be pulled over for a primary offense.
The only exceptions would include:
- Drivers contacting 511 service, 911 or wireless E-911.
- When a vehicle is stopped due to traffic obstruction and the vehicle is in park or neutral.
- Operators of emergency vehicles, coroners, or volunteer emergency responders while engaged in their official duties.
- Amateur radio operators.
“I would like to thank Senator Rafferty for his work on this important issue and for moving this bill forward in the process. Texting while driving is distracting, dangerous and sometimes deadly.” Tomlinson said.
“Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents, especially among young people.” Tomlinson said. “When people are behind the wheel they should be concentrating on the road and other drivers, not texting or talking on cell phones.”
Tomlinson said 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group – 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.
The legislation would also prohibit a junior driver, during their first six months of driving, from transporting more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not a family member unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After six months a junior driver would be allowed to transport three passengers under the age of 18 who are not members of the driver’s immediate family.
“Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and distractions and inexperience both play a role,” Sen. Rafferty said. “These new guidelines would help to keep young drivers and their passengers safe.”
Under the legislation, failure to wear a seat belt would also be a primary offense for drivers 8-18 years of age.
Senate Bill 314 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.