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Lawmakers, Advocates Call for Strengthening Distracted Driving Laws

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HARRISBURG, Pa — As Pennsylvania recognizes April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month,” state Sens. Rob Teplitz and John Wozniak today called for strengthening the laws on distracted driving.

Teplitz and Wozniak have co-authored Senate Bill 153, which prohibits calls on handheld mobile devices while driving. The violation would be a summary secondary offense subject to a fine of $50 for the first violation, $100 for a second violation, and $150 for a third or subsequent violation.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would conduct a six-month education campaign prior to the distracted driving violation going into effect.

The bill contains exemptions for use of such devices during emergency situations or by law enforcement or emergency service providers.

The lawmakers also co-sponsored a resolution designating the month of April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania, which recently received unanimous support in the Senate.

“Distracted driving is a problem in every corner of the state, and it’s not going away. It is still a real problem that endangers motorists, passengers, and bystanders alike. We are all at risk and that’s why we must continue to raise awareness about its dangers and consequences,” said Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry) during a Capitol news conference. “Pennsylvania’s texting ban is a significant step, and our legislation takes the next step toward distraction-free driving.”

“Too many lives have been destroyed and families broken because drivers are distracted and cause injuries or deaths,” said Wozniak (D-Bedford/Cambria/Clearfield).  “It’s not enough to hope that drivers put their cell phones down and stop texting; we can and should do more protect motorists and those who are at risk from distracted drivers.”

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, more than 14,800 crashes involved a distracted driver in Pennsylvania in 2015, with 66 deaths in those crashes. Over the past five years, over 11 percent of Pennsylvania crashes involved a driver distraction, resulting in more than 300 fatalities statewide.

“While you’re driving, that’s your most important task and you need to have one hundred percent of your attention on that task,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “Driving distracted doesn’t just put yourself at risk – it puts your passengers and other drivers at risk as well.”

The news conference featured a talk and video presentation by Joel Feldman of Springfield, Delaware County, whose 21-year-old daughter, Casey, was killed by a distracted driver in 2009.

Through the Casey Feldman Foundation and a website, http://www.enddd.org, Joel Feldman has reached hundreds of thousands of students, families, educators and public officials across the nation about ending distracted driving.

He said teenage drivers and their parents alike need reminders about staying focused while driving.

“I am thrilled to bring attention to the epidemic of distracted driving.  Awareness and education are needed to protect all of us, but especially our children who are the most inexperienced of drivers,” Feldman said. “‘Do as I say not as I do’ is a risky way for parents to try to teach our children to be safe drivers. As parents, we need to model safe driving for our children. We need to be the drivers we want our teens to be.”

“As an officer and long-standing member of Pennsylvania Association for Justice, our statewide association is proud to stand behind the efforts of our friend and colleague, Joel Feldman, to end distracted driving. The number of injuries and deaths attributable to distracted driving is increasing at both an alarming and unacceptable rate,” said Sudhir Patel of the Pennsylvania Association of Justice. “We at the Pennsylvania Association for Justice stand shoulder to shoulder with Joel Feldman and Senators Teplitz and Wozniak in urging the General Assembly to support a critical piece of legislation which will have an immediate and far reaching impact in helping to prevent and minimize the tragedies which all too often follow distracted driving.”

Joe Regan of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police also participated in the news conference.

Source: Sen. Rob Teplitz  press release