Local representative calls for roadway safety bill against distracted driving

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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY — April 1 marks the beginning of Awareness Month and enhancing driving and responsibility is the goal of a bill that will soon be introduced in Harrisburg, again.

A Lackawanna County mother who lost her son to distracted driving has been fighting for this moment, for years.

Pennsylvania Representative Rosemary Brown (R, Monroe/Pike Counties) is calling for legislation that acts to enhance driving responsibly. Brown partnered with Rep. Steve Malagari (D, Montgomery County) in sponsoring House Bill 37.

The bill, which will be introduced in Harrisburg soon, is supported by local activists including one Lackawanna County mother who lost her son to distracted driving.

This is the third time Eileen Miller has tried to get House Bill 37 enacted into law. After six years, Miller and Brown feel like they have enough support.

Miller has been fighting for safer roads since her son, Paul Miller was killed on July 5, 2010. A tractor-trailer crossed the median on Route 33 in Hamilton Township and crashed into his car head-on. The driver admitted he was reaching for his cellphone.

“I had two state troopers come to knock on my door to tell me my son was killed at the age of 21,” Miller said.

She says the sudden news still hurts today.

Her fight to protect others will be getting a third chance inside the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as legislatures attempt to pass House Bill 37, known as the Paul Miller Law.

“You can have Bluetooth but what you have to do is, you cannot touch your cellphone at all. You must have a docking station,” Miller said.

Brown says the bill will continue to allow drivers to use their phones and other devices but mandate that it is used “hands-free”. Drivers would not be permitted to physically hold their device while operating a vehicle. 

“House Bill 37 is a summary offense, it’s a fine, $100 with no points to a driver’s license and it’s a step in the right direction,” Brown said.

Brown held a news conference to explain the bill on Wednesday.

“We have a serious roadway safety concern with cellphone use while driving and really help cultivate new behaviors that help our drivers put the phone down and focus on the read,” she said.

According to PennDOT, distracted driving related crashes in 2019 left 58 people dead in Pennsylvania. Eight of those deaths were caused directly by cellphone use.

“That is why we issue citations, that’s why we support the laws,” Trooper Anthony Petroski said. “We want safety on the roads, we want people driving to maintain eyes on the road at all times.”

Brown’s House Bill 37 was recently passed by the House Transportation Committee. Next the bill will go to the PA House to be voted on.

“While cellphones and other interactive communication devices do enable us to keep in touch with our families and work while we’re on the go, it is always important to keep in mind that there are times and places to use them,” Brown said. “The best cellphone use while driving is still no cellphone use; however, House Bill 37 works to balance the use of technology while increasing this driver responsibility.”

If enacted into law, House Bill 37 would:

  • Make driving a vehicle while holding or supporting any electronic wireless device, regardless of the driver’s age a primary offense that carries a $100 fine (with no points on a license).
  • Increase the fine for texting while driving from $50 to $100.
  • Clarify that no person can be cited for both texting while driving and driving while supporting or holding an electronic wireless device at the same time.
  • Create a five-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).
  • Ensure a person under the age of 18 prior to taking a driver’s exam view educational materials provided on PennDOT’s site on the dangers of distracted driving.  
  • Require the portion of the examination on traffic laws to contain at least one question on distracted driving.

“This legislation is reasonable, realistic and works to cultivate safer driving behaviors with cell phone use, all of which is possible for us to do to help protect each other,” added Brown.

Brown is also asking the public to reach out to their legislators and ask them to support House Bill 37. You can find your legislator online by visiting the PA General Assembly website.

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