Bill proposes “Hand-Held Ban” to combat distracted driving

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- A bill currently awaiting a hearing the state House Transportation committee aims to ban the use of hand-held devices while driving a vehicle.

The "Hand-Held Ban," or House Bill 37, is proposed by Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe County (part), Pike County (part)).

Elements of the proposal include:

* Those under 18, or a permit holder, may not use the device on a roadway, even when the vehicle is stopped, but may use the device if the vehicle is stopped outside of a roadway;
* Those 18 and over whom possess a valid driver’s license may use the device while the vehicle is stopped;
* May use the device exclusively for GPS if it is affixed to the vehicles surface and not hand-held;
* 5-year optional sentence enhancement for those guilty of homicide by vehicle, as well as a violation of the hand-held prohibition during the same incident (mirrors the current texting ban); and
* A parent or guardian must certify their child has viewed educational material on the dangers of distracted driving prior to them receiving a driver’s license.

It also proposes a $200 fine for a driver holding a device while driving, with $175 of that proposed towards a Distracted Driving Awareness Fund.

Chief Jarrad Berkihiser with the Lancaster City Police Department says the current distracted driving law in the commonwealth is difficult to enforce.

He said it puts onus on officers to determine what someone is doing behind the wheel, whether it's texting, using GPS or dialing a number.

Berkihiser said it usually leaves officers resorting to charges such as careless driving as opposed to distracted driving, unless the driver admits to it.

He said he believes the hand-held ban would make enforcing distracted driving easier by allowing officers to pull over drivers using a device for any reason.

“I think once we start both us and the Pennsylvania State Police start enforcing this more, the word will get out that it’s just not worth it. If they’re not picking up on it that it’s such a danger, then it’s going to start hitting them in the pocketbook and then they might start changing their behavior a little bit," said Chief Berkihiser.

Berkihiser added that the only defense under the hand-held ban would be if the driver was calling emergency services, which he said is far easier to confirm.

Some drivers, like Rachel Scarpato of Spring Garden Township, York County, believe the ban could help, pointing to similar laws in neighboring states.

“Like in Maryland, as soon as you cross the line there’s a sign that says this is a hands-free state and it does jog your memory to put the phone down. As with any rules, if people follow it, that’s the question," said Scarpato.

That's the question that makes others, such as Bertice Wright of York, more skeptical about the effect of a ban.

“It’s going to take a lot more than that to deter all these young folks because they can multi-task, that’s what they think,” said Wright.

According to the most recent Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) crash facts and statistics (2017), more than 15,500 crashes were caused by distracted driving, resulting in 58 deaths.

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