Reps. Markosek, Shapiro and DePasquale bring key stakeholders to Harrisburg to push for passage of distracted driving bill
HARRISBURG, Sept. 20 – House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph F. Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, and state Reps. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, and Eugene DePasquale, D-York, held a press event today to discuss the importance of passing distracted driving legislation in Pennsylvania.
The General Assembly got close to passing a teen distracted driving bill earlier this year, and the House and Senate have held numerous discussions during the summer recess and are hopeful a resolution can be reached in the coming days or weeks.
House Bill 67 originally passed the House in April 2009 by a bipartisan vote of 168-24 and would have made it a primary offense for a junior driver to text or talk while driving. In May, the Senate amended the bill to make it a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement officers could only cite teen drivers for using a cell phone if they had been stopped for another offense or been involved in an accident. The Senate version did not limit teen drivers to only one passenger for the entire length of the junior license or require 65 hours of driver experience to apply for a junior license. The Senate version also did not include language that bans texting or talking on hand-held cell phones for all drivers.
“Stories continue to show up in the newspaper and in our respective offices about families who have lived through tragedy caused by distracted driving, and they are asking us to act and act now,” said Shapiro. “There are roughly three weeks of session left and passable bills in both chambers. The potential is clearly there to get this done. But 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 continued, “This is an issue that for me began six years ago as a bill that I thought just kind of made some good public policy sense. Today this is an issue of paramount public safety and importance; we need a comprehensive solution to deal with this epidemic.”
At the press conference, Markosek pointed out that a study by Car and Driver Magazine showed a person talking or texting on the phone takes longer to stop their car than a driver whose blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent – the level at which a person is deemed driving drunk.
The study found that a person driving drunk at 70 mph needed four more feet to break than an unimpaired driver. A driver reading an email needed 36 more feet, and a driver sending a text needed 70 more feet than the unimpaired driver.
“The consequences of distracted driving far too often are deadly,” Markosek said. “This has become the new DUI.”
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2008, nearly 6,000 people died and more than half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. More than 20 percent of all crashes that same year involved some type of distraction.
“The time to act on this bill is now,” DePasquale said. “Support is strong no matter age or political affiliation – this is not an ideological issue. If we continue to wait, we risk more unnecessary deaths on Pennsylvania roadways.”
Key stakeholders supporting distracted driving legislation in Pennsylvania include A.B.A.T.E., the Insurance Federation, PaACEP, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, the City of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania State Police, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, AAA, Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, Focus Driven, PSATS, Waste Industries Association, the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association.
Supporters for distracted driving legislation are encouraged to log onto Facebook and join the group, “End Distracting Driving in Pennsylvania.”
Shapiro represents the 153rd Legislative District in Montgomery County. For more information, visit www.pahouse.com/Shapiro.