Where Do You Draw The Line On Distracted Driving?

By Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esquire

Pennsylvania lawmakers have drawn the line as to what will soon be considered illegal driving practices. New provisions in the law will go into effect in March 2012 to attempt to limit the use of "interactive wireless communications devices." This term includes the use of wireless telephones, smartphones, portable or mobile computers or other similar devices, but does not include GPS or navigation systems. The changes to the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code will outlaw driving while using such devices to send, read or write a text-based communication.

This offense is a primary offense, which means that law enforcement personnel can issue a citation for the offense even if the driver is not violating any other section of the Vehicle Code. In contrast, the seat belt law in Pennsylvania is a secondary offense – this means that an adult driver must be cited for some other violation before an officer can add the lack of use of a seat belt to the citation. The fine for a driver who commits the new summary offense of using an interactive wireless device in violation of the statute is $50.

The new law makes no move to control the use of wireless communication devices for telephone calls which is something that was debated by the legislature. Thus, the question arises: does the new legislation go far enough to discourage distracted driving?

Distracted driving includes activities such as:

  • texting
  • making phone calls
  • eating and drinking while driving
  • reading, including reading maps
  • using navigation systems
  • adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player
  • grooming

While it is clear that texting while driving is certainly dangerous, there have been many reports that other activities, including the use of cellphones, reduce a driver's attention to the roadway and greatly increase the chances of a collision. All of the other activities listed above draw a driver's attention away from their most important task: watching the road ahead.

Why has Pennsylvania outlawed texting but allowed cellphone usage to continue? It is interesting to note a study by Carnegie-Mellon University which suggests that driving while using a cellphone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by as much as 37 percent. Additionally, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration is pushing to eliminate distracted driving on a federal level. If the federal government regulates this area, less stringent state laws will be invalidated. You can review further information about the dangers of distracted driving by logging onto www.distraction.gov.

In the interest of safety, we at QR encourage everyone to place their cellphones and smartphones out of reach while driving. Safe driving is too important to allow for any distractions that go well beyond texting.

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