Last year, Pennsylvania law enforcement officers issued a record number of citations for distracted driving.
More than 5,000 motorists across the state were ticketed for texting while driving, wearing headphones while driving, or using a hand-held cell phone while driving a commercial vehicle.
Distracted driving is an incredibly dangerous problem that has gotten worse as cell phones have become more omnipresent in our lives. More than 400,000 people each year are hurt in motor vehicle accidents linked to inattentive drivers, and our law firm has secured financial settlements for hundreds of people who have suffered serious injuries in such cases.
However, as you have probably witnessed yourself, even with increased enforcement, Pennsylvania’s distracted driving laws do not deter motorists from sometimes making poor choices when behind the wheel. Even when violators are caught, the punishment is limited, at best.
As written, Pennsylvania’s texting-while-driving law explicitly prohibits using a cell phone to “send, read, or write” text-based communications while driving. This includes things like text messages, web browsing, and social media updates. The law does allow drivers to browse their contact lists or dial phone numbers to make calls and it is legal to drive with one hand while using the other hand to have a conversation into your phone.
Additionally, the texting ban does not apply to the use of a GPS device or devices physically integrated into a vehicle.
This raises questions about whether typing directions into your phone’s GPS while driving is legal. The “integrated devices” exception also presumes are that Apple Car Play and Android Auto—software that essentially turns your car’s digital display into a cell phone screen—is safe to use while driving.
Along with these limited definitions of distracted driving, Pennsylvania offers notably gentle penalties for violators. The fine for texting-while-driving is $50 and no points on the driver’s record.
This is a remarkably light fine considering that distracted driving kills several thousand people each year, costs the United States economy $175 billion annually, and creates unquantifiable human suffering in the form of injuries.
The penalty for wearing headphones while driving is slightly more severe. Violators can be fined between $50 and $300, with a chance of imprisonment. But even that law allows drivers to wear an earbud in one ear, just not both ears at once.
The good news is that Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering updates and revisions to bolster the commonwealth’s distracted driving laws. Proposals under consideration could increase fines, add points to a driver’s record, and expand the scope of violations. Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that increased the penalties for distracted driving events that resulted in death or injury.
In the meantime, at all times please be safe and attentive when driving. If you are the cause of a car accident because of distracted driving, the repercussions could have lifelong negative effects on your life. No call, text, etc. is worth hurting yourself, your passengers, pedestrians or occupants of another vehicle.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, please contact our firm for a free consultation: 724-375-6683.