EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Not all of Pennsylvania’s more than nine million drivers are keeping their hands on the wheel, or their eyes on the road. Distracted driving is an increasing cause of car crashes across the Commonwealth. Making Pennsylvania roads safer through tougher legislation has been a struggle.
“Extremely frustrating. disappointing.”
Eileen Miller describes the resistance in Harrisburg to a push she has made now for more than a decade; a push that is personal to toughen Pennsylvania’s distracted driving laws.
“Every day on our roads, people are dying. and that breaks my heart,” said Miller.
The Scranton woman became an outspoken road safety advocate after her 22-year-old son Paul Miller was killed in a 2010 crash caused by a distracted tractor-trailer driver in the Poconos.
While it is illegal to text and drive in Pennsylvania, there is no state law on the books requiring you to put down the phone while driving which leaves the Commonwealth lagging compared to most other states’ regulations.
The telecommunications comparison website, WhistleOut, grades Pennsylvania a D for not banning handheld devices while driving, or restricting young drivers from using cell phones.
“When we drive distracted, we are putting everybody at risk. and the number one factor for distracted driving is a cell phone,” said Tpr. Anthony Petroski, Public Information Officer for Troop N Hazleton.
A AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report finds most drivers agree with Tpr. Petroski’s assessment.
More than three out of four surveyed believe holding and talking on a hand-held cell phone is very or extremely dangerous.
According to PennDOT, there were nearly 12,000 (11,836) distracted driving crashes in 2022 on state roads. Those crashes caused more than 400 (411) suspected injuries and 80 deaths compared to 60 the previous year.
Those numbers may be underdone since drivers do not always admit to having a cell phone or some other communication device in their hands at the time of the crash.
“I just want to get the phone out of the hand so that people are not texting, scrolling, emailing, SnapChatting, TikToking and that is the main goal,” explained Miller.
Her measure, Senate Bill 37 known as Paul Miller’s law, would do just that.
It would carry a warning for the first 12 months after the bill is signed.
After that, fines ranging from $150 to $500 would be imposed. Three or more violations would result in two points on your driving record and a 60-day license suspension.
“There are really no words to describe how a common sense legislation is not being passed to save lives on our roads. it’s been heartbreaking, to say the least,” says Miller.
What is the holdup behind this so-called common-sense legislation?
“The challenges thus far really have been categorized by the concern with racial profiling and also the concern that folks have with big brotherism. you know, too much of watching what everyone is doing,” explained PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll.
Secy. Carroll previously served in the State House of Representatives and chaired its transportation committee. He publicly supported Miller’s effort then, still does, and remains hopeful.
The bill passed in the state senate before heading to the state house.
“In terms of House votes, I think that there will be a more open-minded chamber when the bill is brought for a vote. I understand the challenges. they are not insignificant but I think that the political will is there to overcome those challenges,” said Carroll.
Until that happens, Miller who calls herself a mom on a mission and not a politician, refuses to give up on a cause that remains close to her heart.
“We all know that this kills people. we all know it but yet, right now, nobody wants to do anything to save lives and that’s the part that is hurting me so badly,” said Miller.
At last check, SB 37 known as Paul Miller’s Law, passed the PA Senate in June and has been referred to the State House Transportation Committee where it is awaiting action.