Wednesday, June 15, 2011

PfP News: PA State senate passes bill that would outlaw texting while driving

TPN: State senate passes bill to ban texting while driving

The state Senate just passed a bill that would prohibit the use of interactive communications devices while operating a motor vehicle Wednesday.

PA Senate Bill 314 would make texting while driving a primary offense and talking on a cellphone a secondary offense.  This allows officers to pull you over if they see you texting.  If they see you talking on a cellphone, they can only cite you if they pull you over for something else.

The main reason for this bill is a result of many studies showing the extreme dangers of texting while driving.  Car and Driver Magazine conducted a study showing that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, believes that drivers need to pay more attention while driving and not deal with extra distractions.  "When people are behind the wheel, they should be concentrating on the road and other drivers, not texting or talking on cell phones," said Tomlinson according to the Post-Gazette (PG).

The bill would make the infraction a $100 fine and outlaw emailing, internet browsing, and instant messaging, as well as texting.  The bill would also restrict the number of passengers by a new driver without a parent or guardian.

Many students at Pitt, as well as professors, believe that this bill should be signed into law.  Dr. Paul Munro, professor of Information Science at Pitt, said, “It should be illegal.  It should be a primary offense.”

Recent Pitt Biomedical Engineer graduate Taylor Bissell said, “I think that’s good.  People should keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel while they’re driving.  You don’t need to be texting.”

But some students are raising concerns about the bill making texting a primary offense.  They agree that texting while driving is extremely dangerous but believe that it should be considered a secondary offense instead of a primary offense.

“Texting is definitely more dangerous than talking,” said Elijah Barrad, a Pitt Engineer student.  “Obviously people do and they shouldn’t, and I’m not going to say I don’t, but it’s tough to have it as a primary offense, because you could be doing anything.  It should definitely be a secondary offense.”

Pitt Neuroscience major sophomore Steve Turetsky said, “I think it’s a good rule, because I do it all the time and it’s dangerous.  I feel like if they stopped you, and they knew you were texting also, then yeah, but it shouldn’t be a primary offense.”

Even still, some believe that, while texting and driving is dangerous, you shouldn’t be pulled over for it at all.  

“I agree; texting while driving is dangerous,” said Pitt sophomore Becka Darney.  “But I don’t think they should be able to [pull you over] because you could be doing something else.   But I don’t think you should be looking down while driving.”

Bill sponsor state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, is delighted with the legislation and believes that this is a bill the residents of PA want.  

“I think the people of PA want a texting bill. They want to have some law that would prevent texting while driving.  This is the first bill that has made it as far as it has in the senate, so I am more than happy to support a bill that the people of PA want,” said Fontana.

The debate over the bill now moves over to the House, where a tougher bill is stalling due to the argument of whether the infraction should be considered a primary or secondary offense.  This is upsetting to state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny.  

"As we have stalled, more and more lives have been affected by distracted driving.  Talking on a cellphone and driving is dangerous, distracting, and irresponsible no matter who is driving," said the Ferlo to the PG.

State Sen. Edwin Erickson, R-Chester and Delaware, another co-sponsor,  is happy the bill was passed but believes that they law should be stricter.  When asked if he would sign the bill again if the House passed it making texting while driving a secondary offense, he said he would.

“I am pleased to see we finally took action,” said the Senator.  “I would like to have seen the law stronger; I would have liked to see the use of handheld cellphones as a primary offense.  I think we need to take some action and if we need to strengthen the law later on, we can do that.”

Gov. Tom Corbett believes the bill is a good idea but wouldn’t comment on whether he would sign the bill or not.  “We are supportive of the concept and believe in protecting citizens with regard to distracted driving, but at this point, the exact language of such legislation is still in discussion.”

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