Pennsylvania Could Target Teen Drivers and Other Motorists with New Laws

Slowed progress in teen driving and cell phone laws is causing thousands of accidents and numerous deaths, Pennsylvania legislators recently heard. Teen drivers in the Keystone State are likely to find themselves the subject of more restrictions at the local level, however, even if Harrisburg politicians again fail to pass bills related to driving safety.

The state legislature heard from national experts in traffic safety that Pennsylvania lags behind many other states, including New Jersey and New York, in preventing traffic deaths because of lollygagging by state representatives and senators. Philadelphia-area traffic injury expert Flaura Winston said in testimony before the representatives that even one teenage passenger can increase the risk.

Another concern for many is the fact that cell phone bans, especially those regarding texting, do not exist at the state level. Of particular concern for driving safety advocates is that Pennsylvania legal codes require that laws comply with state laws; previous texting bans have been thrown out by judges in Harrisburg, the state capital.

Legislators are now debating limiting the number of younger passengers for teens recently completing driving school to one, especially as media attention highlights the number of accidents that could be reduced by such a change. And while texting bans are difficult to enact at a local level, younger drivers in the Lehigh Valley may find themselves with a ticket even so.
That's because Bethlehem, a former steel town near Allentown and Easton, will make texting a primary offense and cost offenders $50. Local government officials argue that the fines are less excessive than in other areas, and are merely the means to warn drivers about the dangers of texting while driving. Some experiments and studies have linked texting while driving to rates of crashes that exceed even those of drunk drivers.

Making texting a primary offense also would afford police officers in the city the ability to cite drivers for the offense, even if no other moving or traffic violations were noted. Officers there have asked city council to enact the ordinance, noting that 63 cell phone related deaths occurred in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

Another bill, this time back in the legislature, would also make driving without a seatbelt a primary offense. While this is already the case in many other states, even highway troopers in Pennsylvania have asked representatives in Harrisburg to enact a similar law, arguing that among the new legislation being considered for drivers who have recently completed driver ed programs, it would be the most effective.

The legislative process, however, is a slow one, and even were these laws to pass both houses of the Pennsylvania state body, the enforcement would not begin for several months. The benefits of reducing distractions found at many online driving school programs could have benefits before that, however.

Pennsylvania, like many other states, uses the warm summer weather to begin most of its road construction projects, where speeds and roadways often change drastically over the course of a few miles. Drivers of all ages can benefit from limiting cell phone use and other activities that keep their attention from the road, especially when traveling in new areas.