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Taking another distraction out of driving

In 1987, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring all drivers and front seat passengers to wear a seat belt.

In 2012, the state passed a law that prohibited texting while driving.

And if Gov. Josh Shapiro signs, as expected, a new bill that’s been sent to his desk, holding your phone at all while driving will be prohibited.

Senate Bill 37 would bar drivers in Pennsylvania from holding a cellphone for any reason while driving, and result in a fine if they are caught.

The bill won’t go into effect immediately. The legislation officially goes into effect a year after it is signed, and for another year after that, officers will write written warnings for distracted driving.

The ban will be enforceable two years from the date it is signed. Under the law, anyone found driving distractedly will be fined $50 for each offense, according to Terry Seilhamer, chief of Jackson Township police.

There were 80 fatalities attributed to distracted driving in the state in 2022, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. That number was up from 60 in 2021.

In a 2022 report from PennDOT, 11,484 crashes were attributed to distracted driving, making it the third most common cause of crashes, behind speeding and improper turning.

Research into such statistics leads to new laws, including speed limits, seat belt requirements and texting prohibitions. These laws are not passed to make life more difficult. They are passed to increase safety for everyone, inside or outside of a driver’s vehicle.

In the Wednesday edition of the Eagle, staff reporter Molly Miller told us local law enforcement officials said the new distracted driving bill expected to be signed this week could be easier to enforce than other bans.

Seilhamer said distracted driving has been a growing issue and that the current legislation only bans texting and driving, not other distracting activities.

“It’s a huge problem now,” he said. “The old thing we had to worry about was texting. We had to prove texting. It was almost impossible to enforce.”

He said distracted drivers are sometimes mistaken for someone driving under the influence and will be pulled over.

“It looks like they’re intoxicated because they’re not worried about maintaining their lane,” he said.

According to trooper Bertha Cazy, public information officer for Troop D, distracted driving was a contributing factor in 1,523 crashes recorded by state police last year.

“It’s a significant issue,” she said. “There’s other distractions people can get pulled over for. It’s listed as the cause of a lot of crashes we investigate.”

She said during her time on the force, she has seen people on their phones, applying mascara and eating behind the wheel.

It will be challenging to enforce the new law, but maybe — just maybe — the existence of the law will be a deterrent that prevents some crashes and saves some lives. Hopefully, over time, it will be as reflexive as putting on a seat belt.

— RJ

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