PA House Passes New Tougher Distracted Driving Law

The law would tighten driving laws.

By Peter Hall | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Credit: Tom Sofield/

An expanded ban on using handheld devices while driving is a step closer to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk following a vote Tuesday in the Pennsylvania House. 

Pennsylvania drivers are already prohibited from texting while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Lawmakers voted 124-77 to pass a bill that has already cleared the state Senate that would make any use of a handheld device a summary offense subject to a $50 fine.

To send the bill to Shapiro for his signature, the Senate must now agree to amendments made in the House, which include a requirement for municipal police to gather data on the race, ethnicity, gender and age of a driver and other details during a traffic stop. 

The bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe), said she expects a positive vote in the Senate as soon as Wednesday. Brown said she worked with House members on amendments to make it more agreeable to both sides of the aisle. Those changes also include a reduction of the fine from $100 to $50.

“It’s not about harming the driver. It’s about reducing crashes,” Brown said.

Brown named the legislation in the memory of Paul Miller, Jr. a constituent’s 21-year-old son who was killed in a 2010 crash with a distracted tractor-trailer driver. 

House Transportation Committee Chairperson Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) noted that Paul Miller Jr.’s parents Eileen and Paul Sr. have pushed for the expanded distracted driving law for 14 years. Eileen Miller was in the House gallery for the vote Tuesday, Neilson said.

“Right before coming to the floor, she said something to me that I’d like to share with you and it’s about distracted driving. It does not discriminate. The loved one lost could be yours,” Neilson said.

Twenty-six states including every state bordering Pennsylvania has banned the use of all handheld devices, Neilson added. “It’s Pennsylvania’s turn. Drivers need to put down the phone and keep their eyes on the road,” he said.

The bill makes exceptions for devices built into vehicles such as navigation systems and hands-free devices. It also excludes devices being used by emergency responders or devices used by commercial drivers that are permitted under federal law.

Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) said he opposed the legislation because it would unfairly penalize people who drive older vehicles without built-in hands free connections for cell phones Heffley said using a handheld device should be a secondary offense, meaning a police officer would be required to observe another traffic violation in order to stop a driver. 

“If you can safely operate that vehicle and call your son or daughter on a handheld device, you shouldn’t be getting pulled over and fined,” Heffley said. “We can prove if you’re in an accident and you were texting.” 

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