Pennsylvania: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: December 18, 2017
Pennsylvania cell phone/texting news: Rep. Jaret Gibbons’ campaign to add criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for texting drivers who kill or cause serious injuries ended in success as the governor signed his plan into law Nov. 4. Gibbons’ plan — aka Daniel’s Law — took effect in early January 2017. Gov. Tom Wolf said distracted driving has been “allowed to go under-punished for far too long.”

pennsylvania state flag The new Pennsylvania law provides for two-year sentences for causing “serious bodily injury” while texting. Causing a death can bring a five-year term. Rep. Gibbons named his texting & driving penalty plan Daniel’s Law, for Daniel Gallatin, who was killed on a motorcycle in Lawrence County in 2013 after being hit by a woman who was texting while driving an SUV.

There are no statewide limits on cell phone use. The texting law went into effect in March 2012. Police continue to complain it is difficult to enforce because drivers are allowed to enter phone numbers into their mobiles. State Rep. Joseph Markosek says the texting ban was “watered down” by the General Assembly and remains “woefully inadequate to protect people from drivers distracted by handheld devices.” Markosek proposed handheld cell phone bans several times.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging while driving prohibited for all drivers. Fine $50.
  • No statewide limits on cell phone use. Some local ordinances address cell phones and driving.

Distracted driving notes (2017-18)
House Bill 461: Would allow municipalities to enact ordinances limiting the use of cell phones/smartphones while driving. Texting & driving regulation would be left to existing state law. (DeLuca)

HB 1684: Would prohibit use of handheld cell phones by all drivers. Also bars drivers under the age of 18 from any cell phone use, including hands-free. Fine: $50, then $100. Three points. (R. Brown)

Distracted driving notes (2017)
State Rep. Rosemary Brown said she filed her handheld cell phone bill in part to “create consistency for motorists driving through our state from border states that ban handheld cell phone use.”

State Rep. Anthony DeLuca introduced HB 461 in order to allow cities to regulate cell phone use by drivers. Wording of the state’s texting & driving law prevented them from doing so. “I believe we should turn the issue back over to the control of local officials who best know the needs of their communities,” DeLuca wrote. Municipalities would still be prohibited from adopting any ordinance that deals with texting while driving. DeLuca noted that no statewide cell phone legislation was introduced in the previous session.

2016 distracted driving notes
State Sen. Rob Teplitz was back with his plan for the 2015-16 session seeking a ban on use of handheld mobile phones for all drivers. “Distracted driving is a problem in every corner of the state, and it’s not going away,” Teplitz says.

Daniel’s Law: “We cannot bring Daniel back, but we can take legislative action and pass this bill to protect other innocent victims and their families,” Rep. Jaret Gibbons said after the House OK’d the plan in mid-June. The judge in the case had said that “changes need to be made in the severity of the laws governing cell phone use while driving.”

State Sen. Rob Teplitz tried to stir activity on his SB 153 (below) with a mid-April press conference. “Studies have shown talking on the phone and reaching for the phone (produce) the highest levels of distraction while driving,” Teplitz said. Teplitz and Sen. John Wozniak hoisted a resolution recognizing 2016’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Wozniak co-authored SB 153.

Teplitz’s news conference included speaker Joel Feldman of Delaware County, whose 21-year-old daughter, Casey, was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. Feldman cited an “epidemic” of distracted driving.

State Rep. Anthony DeLuca refiled his legislation seeking to allow cities to make their own ordinances regarding use of mobile phones by drivers.

2015-2016 distracted driving legislation
House Bill 2025: For drivers illegally texting while driving, allows for sentences of up to two years in prison for causing serious injury or five years for a death. Aka Daniel’s Law. (Amended general transportation bill.) Final approval by House and Senate on Oct. 26. Signed into law by governor Nov. 4. See HB 853, below.

HB 853: Would allow second-degree felony prosecution for homicide by vehicle while using “text-based communications” and for aggravated assault by vehicle. Prison terms up to five years. Aka Daniel’s Law. Approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote of June 7. Approved by the full House in a unanimous vote of June 15. “Laid on the table” in the Senate on July 13. See HB 2025, above. (Gibbons)

House Bill 244: Seeks to allow municipalities to pass laws regarding use of cell phones while driving. Would remove provision of current state texting law prohibiting the ordinances. Would not affect texting, which is regulated at state level. (DeLuca)

Senate Bill 153: Would prohibit use of handheld communications devices by all drivers. Fines: $50 then $100 then $150. Conviction would require another traffic-law conviction at same time (secondary enforcement). Pre-empts local laws. (Teplitz)

State Resolution 312: To designate April 2016 as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania. Adopted by Senate on March 22. (Teplitz)

2015 distracted driving notes
The year 2015 saw 66 fatalities in the state caused by distracted driving, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said. There were more than 300 fatalities in the past five years.

More than 14,800 crashes in Pennsylvania in 2015 involved a distracted driver, the Department of Transportation reports.

Drivers in Pennsylvania received 1,410 citations for texting in 2014, state numbers show. The number has risen slowly but steadily in the past three years.

Distracted driving legislation (filed in 2014)
Senate Bill 1289: Seeks to prohibit use of handheld communications devices by all drivers. Would bar drivers under age 18 from using cell phones regardless of whether a hand-free device was employed. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200 then $300. Pre-empts local laws. (Teplitz)

2014 distracted driving notes
Driving while wearing headphones is illegal in the state. In 2014, 711 citations were handed out for the offense, according to the courts system.

The Philadelphia region accounted for a third of the state’s texting & driving citations in the second year under the law. AAA said 428 tickets were written in the five-country region. That’s down from year 1. In Philadelphia itself, tickets fell dramatically, to 91 from 243. Pittsburgh drivers saw 126 tickets. “Are Philadelphians putting the phones down more when they drive? We hope so,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson. “Drivers are getting the message.”

Distracted driving legislation (2013-2014):
House Bill 693: Would prohibit use of all handheld wireless communications devices while driving in the Commonwealth, including cell phones. Hands-free, GPS and entry of phone numbers allowed. Drivers with learner’s or junior driver’s licenses prohibited from use of all handheld devices, no hands-free exemption. Fine: $50. If offense is in a school zone, fine doubles. Calls for state distracted driving education. (Markosek)

HB 109: General distracted driving bill and a rerun of last session’s HB 896. Would create offense of distracted driving for those convicted of careless driving while using electronic communications devices. Additional fine: $50. Cites a variety of distracted behaviors such as reading, grooming, using a radio, CB radio or cell phone. (Ross)

HB 363: Would allow municipalities to enact cell phone bans for drivers. (DeLuca)

HB 978: Would bar use of handheld communications devices by drivers passing through work zones. Fine: $100. Non-moving violation unless accident results or serial offense. (Kortz)

Senate Bill 415: Would prohibit all drivers from use of handheld communications devices, including cell phones. Fine: $50. (Ferlo)

SB 1289: Would prohibit use of handheld communications devices by all drivers. Would bar drivers under age 18 from using cell phones. Fines: $100 then $200 then $300. Pre-empts local laws. (Teplitz)

2013 distracted driving notes
State Rep. Joseph Markosek refiled his plan to ban use of handheld mobile phones for all drivers. He also seeks a ban on novice drivers’ use of all wireless communications devices. Fully licensed drivers who wish to talk on cell phones would have to use some kind of hands-free device. House Bill 693 would also double fines for school zone violations.

More than 1,300 citations were issued in the first year of the state’s texting & driving law. state officials report. PennDOT, however, said that crashes were up over the period. 57 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2012, down slightly from 2011.

Philadelphia-area police handed out about 243 citations in the first year of the state’s texting & driving law. That’s the most distracted driving tickets handed out by any county in the first year, ending March 8, 2013. Next were Montgomery County (111 citations) and Allegheny (110).

The Evening Sun editorialized April 5: “A year after passing a texting law, Pennsylvania lawmakers need to understand they didn’t do enough to prevent tragedy on roads and highways. This state needs a total ban on handheld cell phone use while driving. … It’s ludicrous to (ban texting) while allowing the distraction of making calls on a handheld phone.”

57 people died in distracted driving accidents during 2012, state officials say.

2012 distracted driving notes
About 900 citations were issued as of mid-November under the Pennsylvania texting & driving law that went into effect in March.

Gov. Tom Corbett approved the distracted driving bill Nov. 9, 2011. His signature was a given. “I want that bill passed,” Corbett said in late October. The law was effective March 8, 2012. In Pennsylvania, text messaging while behind the wheel is subject to primary enforcement, which allows law officers to stop and cite offenders for that reason alone.

State Rep. Joseph Markosek confirmed Sept. 5 that he was again proposing a ban on handheld cell phone use by all state drivers. The cell phone bill appears identical to Markosek’s HB 580 of 2011 and similar to his HB 2070 of 2010 (detail below). Still, Markosek says, “this is a behavioral issue and we can’t really legislate that.” The former House Transportation Committee chairman made the announcement at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, which has developed a distracted driving simulator.

Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, added: “Despite the current law prohibiting texting while driving, 58 people were killed on Pennsylvania roads last year (2011) in more than 14,000 distracted driver crashes. People should have their hands on the wheel and be focused on the road when they are driving.”

2011 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 314: Would ban use of interactive wireless communications devices while driving. Ban includes texting devices and handheld cell phones. (Note amendment below that removed cell phone element before passage.) Primary enforcement for texting and driving; secondary enforcement for cell phone use (per amendment of June 7). Specifies distribution of ticket revenue and mandates a state education program. Changes video equipment law to prohibit screens showing entertainment content forward of the driver’s back seat as well as visible to the driver. (Note: Original bill sought only to prohibit text messaging while driving. Secondary enforcement. Changes made in Transportation Committee on May 10.) Fine: Up to $100 but doubled for violations in school zones and construction zones. Approved by the full Senate in a 41-8 vote on June 8. Amended in the House to remove cell phone prohibitions (Oct. 19) and approved by the House on Oct. 31 in a 188-7 vote. House amendments approved by the Senate on Nov. 1 in a 45-5 vote. Fine $50. Latest legislative action: Signed by the governor on Nov. 9. Took effect 120 days after that, March 8. (Tomlinson)

House Bill 8: Would outlaw text messaging by all drivers. Fines: $50 to $100 plus 1 point on driver’s license. Advanced by the House Transportation Committee on May 3. Amended by the House on May 11 to include a ban on handheld cell phone use by drivers. No activity since May 2011. (Watson)

HB 896: Would add an additional $50 fine to violators of the state’s existing careless driving law if they were distracted by handheld electronics, eating, grooming, reading, a vehicle’s radio, etc. Secondary enforcement. Conviction for a related offense such as crossing lanes required. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on May 3 and then by the full House in a 184-12 vote on May 10. (Ross)

HB 146: Would ban use of handheld interactive communications devices by drivers passing through highway work zones. Fine: $100. Moving violation occurs if accident results or previous violation occurred in past year. “Laid on the table” Dec. 12, 2011. (Kortz)

HB 189: Would ban text messaging by all drivers in Pennsylvania. Fine: Up to $100. No activity since January 2011. (DePasquale)

HB 330: Would ban use of interactive wireless communications devices while driving. Ban includes texting devices and handheld cell phones (hands-free OK.) Also, for drivers with learner’s or junior licenses, the bill would prohibit use of all interactive wireless communications devices. Fines: $50 but $100 in school zones and construction zones. Specifies distribution of ticket revenue and mandates a state education program. Similar to SB 749. (Shapiro)

HB 580: Would prohibit drivers from using handheld wireless communications devices. Hands-free operation OK. Would outlaw use of wireless communications devices such as cell phones by drivers with a learner’s permit or junior license. Also calls for a ban on use of video screens such as TVs that are visible to drivers. $50 fine, doubled in school zones or work zones. Also calls for accident reports to note use of wireless communications devices. Directs DMV to prepare annual report on accidents linked to use of electronic devices. No activity since early 2011. (Markosek)

Senate Bill 518: Would bar drivers from using handheld wireless devices to make phone calls or text-message. Hands-free operation OK. Fine: Up to $100. (Ferlo)

SB 635: Seeks to prohibit use of wireless communications devices such as cell phones by drivers with a learner’s permit or junior license. Also calls for a ban on use of video screens such as TVs that are visible to drivers. Would require state accident reports to note any wireless communications devices. Would require a statewide annual report on accidents linked to use of electronic devices. Secondary enforcement. Fine: $100. “First consideration” in Senate on May 10. “Laid on the table” in June 2011. (Wozniak)

SB 749: Would ban use of handheld cell phones and text messaging for all drivers. Hands-free mode OK. Drivers over age 18 would be barred from use of all interactive wireless communication device. Calls for distracted driving education programs and an annual report on wireless communications devices linked to accidents. Primary enforcement. Fines: $50, doubled if use is in a school or highway work zone. Similar to HB 330. (Dinniman)

2011 distracted driving notes:
Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, was the sponsor of the successful texting bill SB 314. Numerous other legislators submitted similar bills and supported Tomlinson’s bill.

Gov. Corbett singled out Tomlinson, R-Bucks, and state Sens. John Rafferty, R-Chester, for their leadership on the texting issue. He also thanked Rep. Richard Geist, R-Blair, and Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks.

Gob. Corbett said during his texting bill-signing event in Harrisburg: “We’ve said it in the past, but today we are making it law: If you have an urgent need to text, you must pull over and park. … No text message is worth a human life. The message of this legislation is drive now and text later.”

The House majority leader said Nov. 1 that the issue of banning handheld cell phone phones remains alive in that chamber, despite the Republican leadership’s removal of the provision in the successful Senate Bill 314. Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, opposes a cell phone driving ban.

State Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Bedford County, voted against SB 314, noting that drivers still would be allow to enter phone numbers and type in names while making a phone call. Texting violators could simply tell police they were making a call.

House Bill 9, which strengthens restrictions on junior drivers, was signed into law Oct. 25 by Gov. Corbett. It was nicknamed “Lacey’s Law” after a Philadelphia area teen who was killed in an SUV while driving with six friends. The new law has no distracted driving provisions.

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, offered the successful amendment to SB 314 that specified only illegal “voice communications” while driving would be left to secondary enforcement, ruling out traffic stops for that reason alone. That means texting would be subject to primary (full) enforcement.

Allentown’s law against the use of handheld cell phones while driving has been thrown out by a county judge who ruled that the ordinance pre-empted state law (or lack of law). The ruling came May 6, 2011. A month later, the city decided not to fight the ruling, saying “it would be too costly with no guarantee that we would prevail.”

Traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania were up in 2010, while national traffic deaths declined. Distracted driving got the blame for 66 deaths. Of the 13,790 crashes in the state, 1,100 involved cell phones, the governor’s office reported.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, proposed the amendment to the texting bill HB 8 that includes a ban on handheld cell phones while driving in Alabama. The May 11 vote for the add-on was 151-39. “I am pleased with the bipartisan support my amendment received in the House,” Shapiro said. “This is an issue of paramount public safety and importance and is long overdue.”

Rep. Kathy Watson saw her texting-and-driving ban OK’d by the House Transportation Committee on May 3. Watson, R-Buck, says “sadly for many representatives it now has come home to them. They understand because they’ve had this kind of tragedy in their own legislative districts.” She’s also not a fan of the $50 additional fine to fund safety education. She explains in the video below: (text continues)

The House Transportation Committee also approved the distracted driving measure HB 896 on May 3. Committee chairman Rick Geist, R-Altoona, supported the measure, which would fine drivers an extra $50 if distractions caused them to violate traffic laws. The money would be used for education about the risks of distracted driving. Critics say the bill is a half-measure with only secondary enforcement.

Rep. Eugene DePasquale (HB 189) says HB 896 should require primary enforcement of distracted driving offenses. Sponsor Chris Ross, R-Chester County, defended his careless driving bill, saying the debate over primary vs. secondary enforcement was a waste of time: “People’s behavior doesn’t change merely because we pass a law up here. It changes because you first say, this is wrong. We’re making it illegal.”

PennDOT called HB 896 “a step forward” but said in written testimony that primary enforcement would have “a more significant impact on saving lives.” State police submitted similar comments on the bill.

“The Pennsylvania Legislature’s unwillingness to act against distracted driving is sadly reminiscent of the (governmental) foot-dragging regarding (the dangers of) tobacco,” the Scranton Times Tribune editorialized after the House Transportation Committee failed to vote on (the “half-measure” HB 896). “Lawmakers should stop needlessly complicating the issue and act in the interest of public safety. They should outlaw cellphone use by drivers, create meaningful fines as a deterrent, and make it a primary offense enabling police to prevent, rather than only react to tragedies.”

Pennsylvania bucked the national trend toward fewer vehicular deaths last year, with fatalities increasing about 5.5 percent. In human terms, 68 more people died than in 2009. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s preliminary numbers for 2010 show a national decrease of about 3 percent.

In Pennsylvania, there were 57 deaths in accidents linked to teenage drivers, compared with 40 in 2009. The contrast “underscores our determination to strengthen highway safety laws in Pennsylvania, which continues to lag many of its neighboring states,” said Rick Remington of AAA Philadelphia. Neighboring Delaware, which has a full complement of distracted driving laws, saw a 14 percent drop in traffic fatalities in 2010, its Office of Highway Safety reported.

Rep. Josh Shapiro is back once again in 2011 with distracted driving legislation. “This is an issue I will not let die,” he said. Shapiro says his plan to ban texting and handheld cell phone use combines elements of last year’s HB 67 and HB 2070.

The sponsor of those 2010 bills also returns the fray. Rep. Joseph Markosek seeks to require hands-free attachments for adult drivers using a cell phone. He also proposes to restrict teen drivers from all use of interactive wireless communication device (no cell phones, texting).

A Lancaster City Council member sought to create a local ordinance because of the failure of state-level distracted driving legislation in 2010. Councilman Todd Smith’s plan ran up against the city solicitor, who deemed such a law “unenforceable.” “I really think it needs to be addressed,” said Smith, in his first year on the council. “I just didn’t know it was going to be this difficult.”

Harrisburg has been frustrated in trying to post signs advising motorists of its handheld cell phone ban, enacted last year. PennDOT refuses to allow signs on a state road without a state law.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, says the chairman of the Transportation Committee (Sen. John Rafferty) intends to advance a distracted driving bill this session.

Rep. Josh Shapiro says he has about 50 co-sponsors for HB 330, his 2011 distracted driving legislation: “This is not a partisan issue,” Shapiro, D-Montgomery, told the Daily Times. This is an issue that I think will bring people together and it needs to get done for the good of Pennsylvanians.” The General Assembly is controlled by the GOP.

One possible hitch: Longtime distracted driving advocate Rep. Shapiro, D-Montgomery, could be leaving the House this year since he is running for a county post.

The group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says Pennsylvania has fallen “dangerously behind” in adopting traffic safety laws such as bans on handheld cell phones. The state received the worst possible grade from the safety advocates.

The York DIspatch editorialized that state legislators should at least focus on enacting limits on teenage drivers: “There’s absolutely no reason we should tolerate them chatting on their cell phones — or pecking away, head down, at a text message — when they need every ounce of their attention to keep themselves and everyone else on the roads safe.”

The township of Bensalem has outlawed text messaging and cell phoning while driving, unless a hands-free accessory is employed. Fines: $150-$300. Included is the Bensalem area of I-95 north of Philadelphia (interchanges with Route 132). The city safety manager says ignorance of the new law means a ticket.

The Edinboro Borough Council on March 14 took up the issue of whether to ban use of handheld cell phones and text messaging by drivers in its borders. “It is out of control,” said the sponsoring councilman, Michael Amidon.

Wilkes-Barre apparently has yet to write a single ticket under its year-old ban against driving while using handheld cell phones and/or text messaging. City councilwoman Kathy Kane, who pushed through the ordinance, said, “I can’t get any answers (from police) on that. … I don’t think we’ve cited anybody.” The law went into effect April 18, 2010, with primary enforcement and $75 fines.

Neighboring states Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Maine have all adopted distracted driving laws.

Key legislation (2010):
HB 67: Would prohibit drivers with provisional licenses from cell phoning or text messaging. Fine of $100. HB 67 is part of a wider teen safety measure that was approved by House on April 27, 2009, and sent to the Senate, which passed a watered-down version. In 2010, it cleared the Senate appropriations committee March 22. An overall distracted driving prohibition was removed from the bill. Amended in the Senate on May 24 to downgrade cell phone and text messaging enforcement to “secondary.” Approved by the Senate on May 24 in a 44-3 vote. The House rejected the Senate’s amendments on July 1, with 71 representatives in favor of those changes but 126 opposed. Latest action: This bill died after failing to advance in the extended session. (Markosek)

HB 2070: Would prohibit all drivers from use of handheld cell phones and text messaging while on Pennsylvania roads. Cell phone use OK if a hands-free accessory is employed. In addition, would outlaw use of handheld cell phones by drivers under 18. Primary enforcement. Fines of $50, doubled in school and construction zones. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on Nov. 10, 2009, and then by the full Pennsylvania House on Jan. 26, 2010. Died in the Senate Transportation Committee midsummer. (Markosek)

Senate Bill 1188: Would outlaw drivers’ use of handheld cell phones and texting devices. Also seeks to ban all wireless communication device use by drivers under 18. Fines of $50, doubled in school and construction zones. Bill never advanced. (Williams)

List of other 2009-2010 legislation below.

2010 legislation notes:
In 2010, time ran out on HB 67 as lawmakers left for breaks in November and December.

The General Assembly returned for its fall session the week of Sept. 21. “Many in both the Senate and House have already given up on teen driving reform for this year,” the Mercury noted with dismay. “Too much on their plates, too little time.” This proved to be the case as the legislation died.

Legislative backers of House Bill 67 told a Sept. 20 news conference that “the potential is clearly there to get this done.” Hosting the state Capital gathering were Reps. Joseph F. Markosek (sponsor of HB 67), Josh Shapiro and Eugene DePasquale. “It is important that we continue our negotiations and that legislators from both parties and chambers continue to step up and demonstrate the importance of this issue,” Shapiro said.

Markosek, D-Allegheny, said a few days earler: “It’s certainly not a dead issue. We are working on potential compromise language so we can get something passed this fall.”

The governor has indicated he would sign the bill if it survives the legislative process (it did not).

Newly re-elected state Rep. Will Tallman laid out his views on distracted driving during the campaign. Tallman, R-Reading Township, voted in favor of HB 67, the bill that would restrict teen drivers from cell phone use (below). He said he would vote for a ban on texting for all drivers, with primary enforcement. As for cell phones, the representative said only that he would favor increased penalties for drivers who cause an accident while engaged in a call.

Rep. Ron Miller says the General Assembly should pass a ban on handheld cell phone use by all drivers. Any distracted driving legislation passed in 2010 should be limited to secondary enforcement, he says. Miller, R-Jacobus, also supports boosting fines for traffic offenses if distracted driving is involved. Miller easily won re-election in November 2010.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, has said “there will be bloodshed on Pennsylvania highways continuing” if the Senate version of the teen driving bill wins out, or HB 67 fails.

HB 67 sponsor Rep. Joe Markosek was angered by the Senate amendments to the cell phone and texting bans for young drivers. He said July 1 that the Senate has “watered this bill down to where, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s worth us having it pass and become the law of the land.”

“My legislation would allow law enforcement to be proactive and stop these drivers before an accident occurs,” Markosek told the Pottstown Mercury on May 25. “Unfortunately, the Senate saw fit to amend it so nothing can be done until after the fact.”

Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, opposed the amendments to HB 67 but voted for the bill in hopes that the House would remove the secondary enforcement limitations. He blamed “colleagues from southeastern Pennsylvania” for voting for the amendment.

The York Dispatch editorialized that the state Senate’s move was an “unforgivable dismantling of a House bill intended to protect young drivers and those who share the road with them.” The paper pointed to Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown, originator of the amendment. The Senate “ought to be ashamed of itself,” the Dispatch concluded.

Rep. Markosek and Rep. Josh Shapiro are the principals behind HB 2070, which passed the full House on Jan. 26. In addition to the ban on handheld devices and the total restriction on wireless communications devices by younger drivers, it calls for a statewide education campaign on distracted driving and an annual report on accidents caused by text messaging and cell phoning while behind the wheel.

“This legislation is proof that the Legislature does listen to the public outcry,” Markosek said after the House voted 189-6 in favor of his bill. He added: “We are all one text from eternity.”

Markosek said April 13 that he expected passage of HBs 2070 and 67 “very soon.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized in favor of HB 67 on Jan. 3, 2010: “While Harrisburg considers whether a cell phone ban or a passenger restriction is fair to kids, our teens are dying on the roads in predictable, preventable patterns.”

Rep. Markosek is the head of the House Transportation Committee, who in 2008 spearheaded HB 67 and an overall distracted-driving bill. He said HB 2070 was a compromise, put together by a study panel.

Wilkes-Barre moved aggressively to enact a city ban on drivers’ handheld cell phone use and text messaging. The law went into effect April 18, 2010, with $75 fines. Texting and cell phoning while driving are now primary offenses.

Allentown’s ban on driving while using handheld cell phones was approved March 3. Fines of $150 to $300. Enforcement is set for April 19. Primary enforcement. Includes skateboarders, inline skaters and bicyclists. The law was inspired by a fatal crash, blamed on a cell-phoning teen, in which two parents died and their daughter almost lost her life.

Philadelphia police say they’ve stopped an average of 50 drivers a day for violating the city’s texting while driving law. Almost 2,500 citations were handed out in December 2009 and January 2010, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The City of Harrisburg has taken action on distracted driving, with a ban on use of interactive wireless communication devices that went into effect March 1. $100 fine (first offense), then up to $1,000.

2009-2010 session legislation
HB 1375: Would prohibit use of wireless communication devices while driving on Pennsylvania roads and highways. (DePasquale)

SB 143: Would outlaw texting while driving in Pennslvania. Covers sending, reading or writing text messages. Approved by the Senate in a 44-3 vote and sent to the House on July 9, 2009. Makes texting a secondary offense with a maximum $100 fine.

SB 950: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers in Pennsylvania.

HB 538: Would prohibit handheld cell phone use by drivers (hands-free device OK) and text messaging while driving. Would outlaw use of “wireless interactive devices” by drivers with restricted licenses.

HB 307: Would prohibit use of cellular phones by school bus drivers.

HB 502: Would create an offense for distracted driving. Includes electronic devices, cell phones, grooming aides, books.

HB 305: Would prohibit text messaging while operating a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania.

SB 459: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones and other wireless devices while operating motor vehicles. Hands-free OK.

Previous legislation notes:
An amendment to HB 67 that would have made banned use of handheld phones for all drivers was narrowly defeated in the Pennsylvania House on April 23. HB 67 would prohibit drivers with provisional licenses from cell phoning or text messaging while imposing other limits on teenage drivers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out July 31 that the Pennsylvania Senate plan to outlaw texting “would make Philadelphia’s roads less safe by upending the city’s ban on handheld phones and texting.” Senate Bill 143 makes texting a secondary offense, meaning law officers would not pull over motorists for that reason alone.

The cell phone amendment was offered by Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Abington Township, author of HB 538 and previous cell phone-driving bills. The House did add a distracted driving amendment to HB 67.

Rep. Shapiro rounded up 73 co-sponsors for his third try on a cell phone bill HB 538 that would prohibit driving and talking without the use of a hands-free device.

On Shapiro’s first try at restricting cell phone use by Pennsylvania drivers, in 2005-006, the bill had 31 co-sponsors. In 2007-08, it had 46 co-sponsors.

Shapiro, interviewed on the cell phone legislation by the Morning Call, said: “As the seatbelt law demonstrated, a law on the books is the best deterrent to a dangerous behavior. The goal of my legislation is not to be punitive, but to end this dangerous behavior.”

Crash survivor Jacy Good has been lobbying for the cell phone driving legislation (HB 538). She lost both parents in the wreck, caused by a teenage driver on a cell phone. “I will not stop until this bill becomes law,” Good told a news conference March 11. She received a shattered pelvis and a brain injury in the cell phone-related crash.

Rep. Kate Harper, R-61st District, fears her HB 67 won’t survive its trip through the Pennsylvania General Assembly: “Too many of the members like their electronic gadgets,” Harper told The Reporter. “The thinking is, ‘If we ban teens from using certain devices when they drive, maybe we’ll ban other people from using them.'”

Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, is an advocate for cell phone and text messaging legislation in Pennsylvania. “I do believe we’re going to make some progress on driver safety (in the 2009 session),” DePasquale told the Evening Sun.

Both Shapiro and DePasquale introduced similar bills in 2008.

Rep. Markosek in 2008 sponsored HB 2674 seeking restrictions on teen drivers, including a ban on text messaging.

Confusion reigned in fall 2007 as an email and forum post circulated that said HB 1827 had been enacted. Apparently the poster was confused by language in the bill, which remains in the transportation committee.

Shifting sentiment: “Efforts to outlaw hand-held cell phones in Pennsylvania have failed for years, but it appears the tide is turning, now that Democrats control the House,” Paul Carpenter of the Morning Call wrote.

The former opponent of cell phone limits on drivers now says: “I could not help but notice the increasingly atrocious driving associated with cell phones. … If a driver is smoking and holding a cell phone at the same time, I’d rather have Stevie Wonder at the wheel.”

City and country ordinances (pre-2010):
The Erie City Council unanimously approved a local law that bans texting and the use of handheld cell phones by drivers and bicycle riders. The Dec. 3, 2009, vote called for secondary enforcement, meaning police will need another reason to pull over drivers who are cell-phoning. Fines would be $150 to $300 ($75 if paid in 10 days).

Millcreek Township voted Dec 1, 2009, to endorse statewide action on handheld cell phones and text messaging devices, at the request of state legislators.

Philadephia’s new prohibitions on handheld cell phones extend to bicyclists, motorcyclists, skaters and skateboarders. Fines for operating a vehicle while using handheld phones or text messaging begin at $150 ($75 if paid in 10 days) and top out at $300. Mayor Mike Nutter signed off on the law on April 30, 2009, despite threats from state legislators. The law went into effect Nov. 1.

City Councilman Bill Green, the Philadelphia ban’s author, says that “lobbyists for the cell-phone industry are pushing Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to undo these protections.”

Lower Chichester has banned texting while driving. The community already restricts the use of handheld cell phones by motorists. “Text messaging now supersedes drugs and alcohol for causing the most accidents in the United States,” said township Commissioners President Rocco Gaspari Jr. “Something needs to be done and I won’t wait for someone in Harrisburg to get off their butt to tell everyone across the commonwealth that text messaging is dangerous.” Prohibitions include gaming and Internet surfing. Fines will be $75 plus court costs. The vote came on Aug. 17, 2009.

Hazelton is considering a ban on using handheld cell phones while driving. Includes text messaging. The fine would be $75. The legislation was tabled on April 7, 2009, and may be amended to a ban on texting only.

The Bethlehem City Council also is pondering a ban on cell phone use by drivers unless a hands-free device is employed. Fines would be $150 to $300.

Carbondale outlawed handheld cell phone use and texting by drivers in 2007.

2008 legislative session:
HB 1827: Would have prohibited drivers from using cell phones unless a hands-free device is engaged.

HB 2674: Would have prohibited drivers with permits and “junior” licenses from using “an interactive wireless communications device,” including cell phones and text-messaging devices. The bill unanimously passed the House Transportation Committee on Sept. 16, 2008.

SB 1097: Would have prohibited drivers from using cell phones unless a hands-free device is engaged. Also applies to text messaging devices. (SB 471 identical)

SB 1098: Would have prohibited use of cell phones and other communication devices by drivers under the age of 18.

SB 677: Would have prohibited school bus drivers from using cell phones while transporting children. Includes stops for children to board or exit the bus.

For 2007, state police reported 1,245 crashes related to cell phone use by motorists.


  1. Rose Ann Garrahan Bardzel says:

    I was hit in the rear by a driver texting and talking on his cell phone. My neck was broken in the accident and my car totaled. That was in May 2014. Since that time I am on serious medication for stress in the back and neck pain. I have Post traumatic stress disorder, I have injections in my neck and back ever 8 weeks. We filed a lawsuit to recover medical bill, pain and suffering and continued treatment of my broken neck.

    The guy that hit me walked away with a ticket of following too close. The witnesses said he had no remorse he stood at the end of the truck staring at me, when I could not move. My entire life has and have to change because of the three surgeries, rods, pins, screws and plates in my neck. And he walks around with out a care in the world. The laws in PA have to change, he should have went to jail for 5 years at least, so he could endure some of the suffering I have to endure!

    I am for jail time, first offense if the other party is seriously injured or death!

  2. Great informative article. I really do wish PA would get more aggressive in handing out texting while driving fines … too many people are doing this.

  3. Michael S Ruoss Sr says:

    i wish the state of pa will make TEXTING A $1000 fine and 2 Points and if it happen 2 more times you have a $5000 fine and can go to jail

  4. Premo Sanchez says:

    If they are gonna outlaw cell phones, then they should outlaw ignition interlock under bill 693, distracted driving. How many accidents do they cause each year?

  5. matt sokac says:

    being i was just hit by a driver that was texting. i feel strongly about the ban i believe something needs to be done about cell phones. you do not need to be using these devices until you are stopped. no person is that importante that you need to endanger my life. i wish the state would look into this. had i not been in my truck and on my motorcycle i would be dead

  6. anonymous says:

    “primary enforcement” just like seat belt laws, it’s yet another easy excuse that dishonest cops can use to pull over law abiding citizens.

  7. F Parker says:

    Texting bans do nothing … In fact, it just causes more of a distraction because people will STILL text and drive, however another distraction has now been added to the equation, looking for police. Now it will be “Look for police, look down to text, look up to drive, look for police, look down to text …” This is a joke, and a scheme to get money, its not going to save a single life.

  8. TheEstablishment says:

    I’ll do as I please.

    • Sure do has you please, pay the fine when the law is passed PLUS have on your concious the life you may take and families you put in danger with one hand or elbow on the drivers stirring wheel.

      The PA House must past the law banning the use of all hand held electonic devices while driving. The fine must be stiff enough ($100 minimum) to make anyone with an ounce of care, to stop and think before texting, making or taking a call WITHOUT PULLING OVER to the side of the road to do so. PERIOD!

  9. Noel Kline says:

    All handheld telephones and texting should be made a law in Pennsylvania. I see 3 out of 4 drivers on the road talking on their phones while driving the fine for this should be 300 dollars and enforced by all police departments. There is no reason for driving and talking or texting while driving. Get off your duffs and pass this law and make it safer for law abiding citizens.

  10. stupid, this won’t fly….i sent 2 texts while sitting in traffic this morning.

  11. Anonymous says:

    What if someone is simply changing the song on their iphone? How can a cop distinguish between the two? I didn’t read the entire article, so maybe it was in there somewhere…

    Don’t get me wrong, this is about as important a law that could be passed, but my worry is that things like changing songs, using GPS, and other phone functions could cause problems.

  12. There should be NO law against driving with a phone period. Firstly is is not going to stop anyone from doing what they already do. People are idiots regardless. The penalty for causing an accident while using a phone need to be STEEP. Just saying stop or we’ll fine you $100 is going to do ANYTHING AT ALL.

  13. Russel Pennypacker says:

    This should have been done long time ago I drive truck for a living and have been run clear of the road to avoid an accident. I have also had some that were much worse ( including one using a laptop) Eating is another big problem. Keep pushing for more laws.

  14. I am a junior driver and I think that it is good that they are starting to have laws that effect everyone and not us teen drivers. Adults do just as many stupid things on the road as teens do.

    When my brother had his junior license he went to make a turn and the person behind him was on their phone and slammed into the car, totaling it. Once I was in the car, put my turn signal on and started slowing down with enough time so the driver behind me would know I was about to turn. I slowed down to wait for the oncomin traffic to turn and the woman behind me slammed on her brakes and her horn. I looked into my rear view mirror only to see her move her phone down from where she was holding it above the steering wheel.

    So to the commenter above, Matthew B, the police should be targeting everyone for texting because it is not just us “damn kids” that are causing accidents. When I’m at work walking to my car I see about four people drive by me on their phones and don’t even stop at a stop sign. I have almost been hit a few times because of it. So is it really only the teens that are causing problems on the road? No. It is everyone who texts while drives.

    The reason us teens get blamed for accidents is because the teen accident stories are the only ones that get put on the news, all the other adult accidents are not made public to make it look like it is texting while driving, but in fact just that teen drivers are bad drivers. Granted, some teens are reckless on the road, but not all of us are. … Look at the way you drive because I see adults on their phones while they drive more than I see teens. Thank You that this texting law is for EVERYONE and not just us teens.

  15. I never got used to driving and txting. It’s not a good, natural, combo. When race car drivers start doing it, I will too. As much having as more regulation is unsavory, common sense has been thrown out the window by a portion of drivers, who are already lacking in driving skills.

    Early last year I was behind a young female driver on Rt11 who was obviously pre-occupied with something other than driving. She was crossing both lines on the road, so I backed off. Within a few minutes she crossed the centre line and struck a Jeep CJ head-on. No serious injuries, fortunately, but there was plenty of grief to go around. idk how I’d react if I was the victim.

  16. Jon Daley says:

    I arrived at this site because I had heard there was a new law. that might affect me. But, fortunately, the new law is only for texting.

    Quite silly that our lawmakers spent all this time writing multiple bills and talking about them endlessly, and come up with a law that (as the previous commenter points out) allows people to play Angry Birds (though I play Angry Birds with two hands, so that is probably covered under am existing keep-one-hand-on-the-wheel law, but maybe other know how to play Angry Birds with a thumb…)

  17. I think the funniest part is when people say they will never do this. a $50 dollar fine is not going to stop people from texting on a 4 hour drive..or even a 5 minute drive..who is that cop to say that I was texting? I could have been making a phone call, looking through my phone directory, or I dont know, playing angry birds. Its going to be really hard to prove texting only.

    The fine needs to be higher, or ban complete cell usage. But, texting alone is silly..and hard to prove. What happens when one gets the fine for texting while driving, and then they go to their carrier and have their time records of ingoing/outgoing text messages pulled and the cop was wrong. Seems like a waste of time money and effort. Yes it may save a FEW lives. But society is so dependant on this techology that the texting epidemic wont be solved. I dont even think it can be controlled.

  18. does this law cover talking on a handheld phone, or just banning texting?

  19. TONY FINAMORE says:

    I totally agree with Gov. Corbett, with one exception: No driving while using a cell phone – no texting, no conversations-nothing but driving- any fines should start at $100.00 -but no points- this way cell users can still  drive- and fines will help pa state economy.

  20. dawn nettles says:

    My husband drives a truck and I don’t want him to be killed over a selfish driver who are always texting on their phones. It is not only teens that do this, it is adults as well. We need some kind of laws needing a bluetooth device. I am seeing more and more drivers texting and it makes me sick, we are not safe on the road. Please do something about this before more people lose their lives to selfish drivers.

  21. I wanna know where it says you can not send a txt message if you sitting for 20 mins in traffic in the city at a RED LIGHT none the less and you get a ticket for $75 bucks. If I was talking on my phone while driving and or txt while driving (meaning actually moving in my car) I can see and understand, but sitting at a red light I find this to be uncalled for and that the philadelphia police have nothing better to do, then doing something like this, why should be out stopping the damn kids causing problems not giving tickets to people who are at a red light!!!!

  22. Ed Jozsa says:

    on what date does the hands free cell phones, while driving go into law in Pa?

  23. Miriam Hermann-Forese says:

    On Friday I was rear-ended by a woman with a cell phone held to her ear. I am going to need several operations, with months of physical therapy. She was found “at fault” but not cited for the crash. She doesn’t even get a note on her driving record or a fine, while I am in great pain and will be for months. This woman is a eye surgeon, she denied hitting my car, and never once asked how I was. This is the kind of person who uses cell phones while they are driving. They have no care about anybody else but themselves. We need state laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving NOW, with it being a primary offense with stiff fines ($1,000 or more), and loss of driving privileges of at least 6 months.

  24. Adam Huffnagle says:

    I agee that Cell phones useage while driving is dangerous. However, 2-way radios should be excluded from the pending cell phone bill. I’m an Amateur Radio Operator and if I had my drivers license I would continue using my two-way radio, but only for short brief conversations.

  25. If our legislators and/or police do not want to enable or enforce these distracted driving bans, then it is up to Joe Public to let said distracted drivers know that there inconsiderate and hazardous actions are not acceptable or appreciated. Bottom line: just yell and scream profanities, honk horns and flip the finger at these inconsiderate, self-centered jerks. Consider hand held air horns directed at cell phone users while they drive past. No ones life is so important that they risk the welfare of fellow citizens to answer a phone while driving to simply ask, “What are you doing?……….Me?……Nothing?………………….” all while their head is nowhere near where it should be. And for what? Incredible proof of society turning a blind eye on society. If only they all would just drive into eachother or off the nearest cliff simultaneously.

  26. Talking on a cell phone is much more distracting than changing a CD. First of all, a CD takes a few seconds to change, and is something you can wait 1, 2, etc minutes to do as conditions permit. A phone conversation is continuous. Respected research has shown up to 37% of brain activity can be taken by talking on a phone while driving. It simply takes far too much attention away from control of the car.

    IMO, all phone use including hands-free should be banned. It is time PA gets with the program and *at least* bans hand-held use while driving. Many people can’t *walk* and talk on the phone. It should have been done years ago, and it is unclear what is keeping legislators from doing the right thing for our collective safety.

  27. I drive 30k miles a year in my car and I have a motorcycle that sits in my garage. I am too afraid to use the motorcycle because while driving daily I notice other motorists who are constantly checking text messages, emails, gps, or checking facebook/twitter on their phone. I don’t see what is so important that they need to risk someone elses life. At the same time, I live in Philly and I do not understand how the police are going to enforce a law like this. They do not seem to care about something which general society has deemed menial. Statistics on accidents caused by motorists using cell phones need to be brought to the public and treated in the same way that drunk driving is treated, not with a $80 fine.

  28. Vanessa says:

    NO ONE does this well… no one talks on a hand-held cell phone and/or texts while driving, well. People like to think they do but they don’t. They just don’t want to admit it because they love the convenience of it. Get a hands-free device and stop the denials, it IS UNSAFE and we all have children and loved ones out on the roads who could, at any time, become victims of a distracted driver. And by the way, it IS different than speaking to the person next to you. You do not have to hold their mouth to your ear!

  29. if it was hands free then what about drinking and driving and smoking and driving

  30. If the point is to go hands free, shouldnt there be a law on people smoking while driving too!?

  31. Allentown’s ordinance prohibits all use of cell phone features including playing music. Hands free device must be able to start and end the call without touching the phone. CB and 2 way radios are also prohibited.

  32. Those of you that think there is nothing wrong with driving and being on a cell phone need to take a long hard look at the facts. There are hard numbers and more then enough scientific proof. I personally know of people who have life long spine and back problems from being hit from behind while sitting at a red light. The people that hit them were to worried about looking down to send a text, they never stop in time. The sad fact is most people are no were near as good a driver as they think they are. Every time you go on the road anything can happen. Your on the phone laughing enjoying your talk, the guy in front of you is texting, the one behind also talking. Something happens and no one is ready. So we add to there already lack of skill in driving with a lack of focus as well. I think the laws need to be harder. You do not need to talk on the phone in anyway while driving. Not if my life or has to be in your hands as well as mine.

  33. Truck drivers have been using CB radios for as long as I can remember. There is no difference between talking on a cell phone or a CB. Maybe we should outlaw having passengers in cars with us also, since they can distract us too. when we talk to the person sitting in the passenger seat or in the back seat we also take our eyes off the road to look at them.

  34. Mike Kistler says:

    I think it’s a good start but doesn’t go nearly far enough. First off, hands free devices aren’t all that much safer, they should be banned as well. And a $50 fine is not much of a deterrent, it should be more like $500. That would make people think. Personally I’d go stiffer than that, like loss of driving privileges. I’ve never been almost killed by a drunk driver, but it happens monthly by someone on a cell phone. The punishments should be similiar.

  35. The one at number 11 says:

    I think that its just common sense to know whether or not to txt while driving… I mean ur just putting yourself in more harm as to others on the road I think u would have to be an idoit to not want this bill passed. :]

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