Cell phone driving bill faces numerous changes

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(WBRE/WYOU) — A Pennsylvania bill to stop the use of cell phones while driving is moving forward and backwards at the same time.

A last-minute amendment during Wednesday’s House vote could change how police officers enforce the new law. The way it stands right now, if House Bill 37 passes, law enforcement will not be able to pull someone over solely for being on their phone. That’s raising a lot of frustration among those who are fighting to hold motorists accountable.

In the past five years in the state, drivers using cell phones have accounted for more than 5500 crashes according to PennDOT. Nearly 50 of them fatalities.

“The amendment prohibits the use of an interactive wireless communication device, a cell phone, while a person is operating a motor vehicle on a highway or traffic way,” Representative Rosemary Brown, (R) District 189 said.

Brown introduced House Bill 37 nearly a year ago. At Wednesday’s vote in Harrisburg, the bill passed 180-16. Minutes later, state representative Doyle Heffley introduced an amendment that would move the hand-held ban from a primary offense to a secondary offense.

“If you’re distracted and looking away, dialing the phone or texting, that’s distracted driving and if you get into an incident or accident because of it, you’re going to be cited for it,” Heffley said.

“As a mother who has lost her child, you don’t want somebody to get a citation after the fact or a summary offense after the fact,” Eileen Miller said.

21-year-old Paul Miller, Jr. died in July 2010 as a result of a truck driver who was on his cell phone. Since then, Eileen has been working with Brown to make Pennsylvania drivers more accountable.

“We have totally reversed the law and it’s actually going to make it worse,” Miller said.

“The 20 other-plus states that have this legislation do have it as a primary and there is a reason for that,” Brown said.

Brown says with the bill as it stands heading to the Senate, drivers will not be able to touch the phone while driving. It can be in a docking station and be used.

“We’re getting the phone out of the driver’s hand, so that is a really very good piece of it,” Brown said.

As the bill stands right now, it will be a summary offense and a $150 fine, no points on your driver’s license. If the Senate votes to approve the bill as it stands right now, Governor Wolf will have to sign it into law.

If there are any changes, it will go back to the House.

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