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This fall, the Pennsylvania legislature was considering legislation to prevent distracted driving related to the use of cell phones and text messaging while driving. Although it is unlikely that a law will be adopted this year, one of the bills presented would prohibit the use of cell phones and text messaging for only those with provisional licenses, while another bill being considered would prohibit those activities for all drivers, regardless of their license. Also under debate is how much an offender would be fined for violating the prohibition. Currently in Pennsylvania, there is no statewide limit on cell phone use while driving, although some localities, such as Philadelphia and Harrisburg, do prohibit using a handheld cell phone or text messaging while driving.

States across the country have taken a variety of approaches to address the issue of distracted driving that arises out of the use of electronic devices while driving. A handful of states have enacted laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving anywhere within state boundaries. In places without a state-wide ban, many cities have chosen to adopt their own bans within city limits.

The Arizona legislature this year was considering a few different bills aimed at preventing distracted driving. While none of those bills appear to be progressing through the legislature this year, they included bans on texting for all drivers, using wireless communication devices for young drivers, and the viewing of video images for all drivers.

States neighboring Pennsylvania also take various approaches:

  • Ohio has no bans on handheld devices, text messaging or cell phone usage. Several Ohio municipalities, however, do have various limits on cell phone use and texting.
  • West Virginia legislation focuses only on young drivers with only a learner’s permit or intermediate license, banning those individuals from cell phone use and texting.
  • New Jersey law, meanwhile, identifies more categories: banning handheld devices and text messaging for all drivers, while banning cell phones entirely for young drivers and bus drivers.

In addition to banning electronic devices that can distract drivers, New Jersey also took action recently to prevent pedestrian deaths from distracted driving. In April of this year, a law went into effect in New Jersey which requires drivers to stop and remain stopped for pedestrians in marked crosswalks or who are crossing at intersections where there are no marked cross walks. This new law imposes a greater—and more clearly defined—responsibility on drivers than did the previous law, which required drivers to “yield” to pedestrians.

As the Pennsylvania legislature continues to debate what is most appropriate for the state, these other approaches highlight some of the issues to consider and how a more nuanced law might be beneficial. Considering the age and experience of the driver, the type of device in question, whether the device is hands-free, and how the device is being used are all important factors in designing a law that will protect drivers and pedestrians alike.

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