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House and Senate Disagree Over Teen Driving

Cell-phone use by drivers has become one of the leading causes of teenage car accidents in the U.S. today. In his article “Teen Driving Bill Stalls,” the Times Herald’s Carl Ressner reports that, at the end of the year, a bill concerned with restricting cell-phone use by teen drivers did not pass legislation. House Bill 67 was approved by the State House in April 2009 but went on to meet revisions by the Senate. Subsequent to these revisions, the House rejected the bill.

Before the Senate’s changes, the bill would have made talking or texting on a cell-phone by drivers with a learner’s permit a primary offense. Furthermore, teen drivers would have been restricted to one passenger under the age of 18 in the car at time. These aspects of the bill were called “basic common sense legal restrictions on… young, inexperienced drivers…” by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri, but they remained the major points of contention for the Senate.

In the end, the Senate’s changes forced the House to reject the bill in July, claiming the product to be “watered down.” Senators defended the changes, arguing that a lack of manpower would make policing cell-phone violations as primary offenses impossible.

From the perspective of a citizen of Pennsylvania, the Senate’s stalling of House Bill 67 is an irresponsible act. Furthermore, the Senate’s claim that the bill cannot be entirely policed seems to be a poor excuse—what law can be entirely policed? In his article, Ressner reports that, in a span of only 20 days, four Pottstown area teenagers were killed in car accidents. It is easy to see that this is not a small problem, and it is a problem which merits the sort of laws that House Bill 67 aimed to put in place.

Regardless of House Bill 67’s criminal enforceability, it would still have been a vital tool for civil litigators representing victims of reckless drivers. To have the law on the books would help attorneys earn more in damages for the victims of reckless drivers. The Senate should have considered the protection that House Bill 67 would have given to those injured in car accidents. They should also have considered how the bill would have acted as a deterrent to reckless behavior behind the wheel.

As a consequence of the Senate’s revisions, further legislation dealing with House Bill 67 will now have to be newly presented next month for the recently-elected members of Legislature.

For more information on this issue, see Carl Ressner’s full article at
www.timesherald.com/articles/2010/12/26/news/doc4d17e8b914402608944196.prt

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