Cell Phone Ban While Driving in Pennsylvania

Anybody who reads my blog regularly knows how I feel about texting while driving. A while ago, I expressed my opinion based on personal experience in my blog post “The Importance Of Being Able to Text While Driving”.  There are now driving safety changes in the works, specifically concerning the usage of cell phones on the road.

Recently, the Pennsylvania House has passed a bill that aims to ban the use of cell phones and all hand held devices for drivers. If passed, the bill would impose a fine of $50 upon individuals who don’t use hands-free devices. The exception to this would be navigational systems (such as GPS) or calling 911 in the case of emergency. The goal is obviously to limit the talking and texting of drivers on the roads. Only 7 other states have such tough driving restrictions—California, New York, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Oregon, Utah, and New Jersey.

Washington DC held a “Distracted Driving Summit” in September of 2009, where National Highway Traffic Safety Administrators reported 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries due to car crashes involving distracted drivers in the year 2008 alone. As you may expect, the majority of the distracted cell phone drivers are less then 20 years of age. The Pennsylvania bill’s lead sponsor and chairman of the Transportation Committee, Representative Joe Markosek said, regarding his reasons for sponsoring the bill, “We are all one text from eternity.”

An interesting take on this issue is from Michael Smerconish, a lawyer, Philadelphia radio show host on 1210 AM WPHT, and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His point is that business, i.e. the tech business, should be stepping up instead of government to make hand held devices, in his words, “well functioning, comfortable {and} aesthetic”, and safer when used while driving. Michael Smerconish’s article in the January 31, 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “Head Strong: Bring Tech Up to Speed” discusses improving hands-free technology as drivers are still going to be using hand helds dangerously while driving, no matter what the consequences. The government cannot stop our own stupidity. So the tech businesses should focus on manufacturing systems in cars, truck, etc, that protect us against ourselves, but still allow for the use of hand held phone devices. Better that these companies tackle America’s obsession with driving while using cell phones, iPods, and other devices then have government step in at the local, state, or national level.

The Truth about Hands-Free Cell Phone Use While Driving

How safe are you when drive while having a phone conversation using hands-free wireless technology? Well, according to a University of Utah study and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the answer is not very.

The University of Utah study showed that motorists that used hands-free phones were as impaired as drunk drivers. The study found that compared with undistracted drivers motorists who talked on handheld or hands-free cell phones:

  • Drove slightly slower
  • Were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after breaking, and
  • Were more likely to crash

In fact, three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.

Further, the NHTSA has indicated that hands-free cell use causes a cognitive distraction that degrades a driver’s performance. Drivers are less likely to pick up on visual and audio cues that are necessary to avoid an accident. This makes hands-free cell use just as dangerous as handheld cell use.

Distracted driving is distracted driving. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by hands-free cell use. There is no meaningful difference between handheld and hands-free cell use while driving. Both are dangerous.

Maybe. But as a Philadelphia Accident Attorney, I see the tragic results of distracted driving on a daily basis and I hope the Pennsylvania Senate decides to follow the lead of the House (who voted 189-6) and approve the bill. More information on the Senate’s decision will follow.