Is Distracted Driving Still a Problem in Pennsylvania?
Have you answered a call while behind the wheel? If you’re in Pennsylvania, that may be unsafe, but it isn’t necessarily against the law.
Despite ample evidence of the dangers of distracted driving, there is no law in Pennsylvania requiring drivers to stay off of their phones while driving. Previously, Philadelphia had a ban on talking on a cell phone unless the driver was using a Bluetooth or hands-free device.
However, that law was recently pre-empted by a Pennsylvania state law that bans texting but not talking on a cell phone while driving. In many ways, this is a step backwards in protecting people from distracted drivers.
According to a recent article from the York Daily Record, Pennsylvania stands alone among most of its neighbors in not having a hands-free law. Unlike in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Delaware, Pennsylvania motorists can place a call, use GPS or even hop on social media. They just can’t send or receive text messages or wear headphones.
We know that distracted driving is dangerous, and is a leading cause of many accidents in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Yet despite proof that stricter laws on the use of a phone while driving can reduce distracted driving, Pennsylvania has not taken action to crack down on what many see as a growing problem.
Pennsylvania Law on Distracted Driving
Pennsylvania has a relatively straightforward law on distracted driving. It is against the law to use an “Interactive Wireless Communication Device” (IWCD) to send, read or write a text-based communication while a vehicle is in motion. The law does not prohibit the use of a GPS device or a system that is integrated into the vehicle.
Under this law, an IWCD is broadly defined to include wireless phones, smart phones, personal digital assistances, computers and similar devices that can be used for texting, sending instant messages, emailing or browsing the internet. A text-based communication is a text, instant message, or another written communication that is composed or received on an IWCD.
The penalty for violating this law is relatively light: just $50 if you are found guilty, plus court costs and other fees. It is a summary offense, and does not result in points on the offender’s license. It will not show up on the driving history of a person with a non-commercial license, but will be recorded on a driver’s commercial driver’s license as a non-sanction violation.
How Pennsylvania Compares to New Jersey
In Pennsylvania, citations for distracted driving decreased by 5% from 2017 to 2018. Despite this year-to-year trend, overall, the number of distracted driving citations has gone up by 118% over the past five years (from 2014 to 2018). In 2018, there were 4,793 citations, with the majority given in Montgomery County (11%), followed by Allegheny County (8%).
More important than the number of drivers cited for distracted driving is the way that it affects our safety. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. In 2017, there were 15,614 crashes attributed to distracted driving; 58 of those crashes were fatal.
In contrast, New Jersey prohibits all forms of cell phone use while driving, including talking on the phone, text messaging, or otherwise using an electronic communication device. The law calls for much harsher penalties than Pennsylvania’s law, including a fine of $200 to $400 for a first offense, and a license suspension of up to 90 days (in addition to a fine and 3 license points) for a third or greater offense.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) collects statistics on accidents related to cell phone usage in the state. In 2017, there were 1,134 accidents — which involved 549 people injured and 2 people killed — involving the use of handheld cell phones. In contrast, there were just 361 accidents across the state where drivers were using hands-free cell phones; 160 people were injured, and no one died in these accidents.
The difference in the rate of accidents — and injuries — between Pennsylvania and New Jersey is significant. In 2017, there were 15,614 accidents attributable to distracted driving in Pennsylvania. In that same year, there were only 1,495 accidents in New Jersey related to cell phone use.
While the statistics cannot be compared exactly, they do indicate that distracted driving is a far bigger problem in Pennsylvania than it is in New Jersey. A more relaxed law with relatively light penalties may be the reason why there are so many more accidents caused by distracted driving in Pennsylvania.
How a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer Can Help
Distracted drivers are responsible for thousands of car accidents across Pennsylvania each year. If someone slammed into your vehicle because that text or call just couldn’t wait, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses.
Mattiacci Law, LLC has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of our clients. We are dedicated to aggressive advocacy for our clients, so that they can focus on their recovery and healing. Contact us today at 215-914-6919 (Philadelphia office) or 856-219-2481 (New Jersey office), or email us to schedule a free initial consultation with a Philadelphia car accident lawyer.