Apr. 25, 2024

Phone Use While Driving: More Laws are Not Always the Solution

I have spoken with friends and neighbors about the use of cellular telephones while driving, and I share many of the same concerns. The reality is many drivers are disregarding our existing law and using their phones while operating their vehicles.

But the answer is not necessary another law. That is why I opposed a bill on the House floor earlier this month.

Senate Bill 37 prohibits the use of all interactive mobile devices while driving. The current law on the books prohibits drivers from sending, reading or writing text-based communications.

At first, the difference between the two may seem negligible, but they are very different. 

Because existing law only applies to text communications, there are a variety of cell phone uses that are not against the law, such as setting your GPS to your next destination to watching a video.

I want to be clear. I am by no way advocating for drivers to be able to watch a YouTube video while operating a vehicle.

But the need to make our roads safer does not stop at banning the use of cellular phones. Eating, personal grooming and just about anything else that diverts a driver’s attention from driving safely are equally a concern.

Within Senate Bill 37, it clarifies an offense is committed if the driver is “using at least one hand to hold” a cell phone. This means that using the device or not, simply having it in your hand is illegal. You can hold a hairbrush, a large coffee cup or just about anything else, but if Senate Bill 37 is written into law as is, you cannot simply hold your cell phone.  

For me, the real issue lies in driver distraction, rather than the specific item being used. I believe that carving out one particular activity and making it illegal, though well-intended, is a knee-jerk reaction that is not likely to have the desired impact.

I also have concerns with a portion of the bill that collects driver data. The proposal directs law enforcement offices to collect driver information at all traffic stops including race, ethnicity, gender and age. The data would be sent to state police or a designated third party for analysis and creation of an annual report.

I understand having information can be helpful to discuss future policy ideas. But if that is the intent of this kind of data collection, we need to consider it separately from the topic of cellular phone usage while driving.

While road safety is paramount, banning handheld cellphone usage encroaches upon personal rights and individual freedoms. It assumes that all drivers are incapable of responsibly using their cellphones while driving, disregarding those who genuinely exercise caution and use hands-free options. A sweeping ban on handheld cellphones is an unnecessary infringement on personal liberties.

Finally, Senate Bill 37 unintentionally puts a target on the backs of drivers whose vehicles do not have a Bluetooth device, which allows users to make commands by using their voice.

A driver with a Bluetooth system can answer a call, choose a new song, input an address to Google Maps or even respond to a text message, all hands-free. But a driver without Bluetooth has to use their hands for these tasks and is risking a citation.

Like speeding or stopping completely at stop signs, unfortunately some drivers are likely to continue breaking the law, regardless of the legal risks. But if we expect to change drivers’ habits, laws have to make sense and be applied fairly.

Certainly, I do want our roadways to be safer by drivers avoiding distractions. I want to make sure that the legislation has a strong means of achieving that purpose.

While the objective behind banning handheld cellphones by drivers is to improve road safety, it is crucial to consider the unintended consequences of such a blanket ban. 

Instead of focusing solely on restricting handheld cellphone use, efforts should be made to address the broader issue of driver distraction through education, awareness campaigns, and the promotion of responsible cellphone use while driving. Striking a balance between safety concerns and individual rights is essential to ensure a comprehensive and effective approach to road safety.

Although I voted no, Senate Bill 37 passed in the House 124-77. Because it was amended with the portion regarding data collection, it goes back to the Senate for reconsideration, before heading to the governor’s desk. 

Here are some additional news topics and reminders I would like to share.

Free Mobile Shredding Event Planned – Do you have old documents with sensitive information that need to be disposed of safely? On Thursday, May 23, from 4-6 p.m.  at my Washington Township/Export Office in the Donal Plaza, I am hosting a free Mobile Shredding Event.

There is a limit of two bags or boxes per household. Examples of items to be destroyed include bank and card statements, tax documents, insurance claim forms and anything else that lists a Social Security number. Staples, paper clips and manila folders are acceptable; however, books, magazines or metal binding materials other than staples cannot be shredded. 

The documents received are shredded in a truck on-site and then taken to a local paper recycling plant to be treated and reused. Only personal shredding is permitted. No documents from commercial businesses will be accepted.

Important Update for Students Seeking Financial Aid - The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has announced the submission deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), with relation to the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, has been extended to June 1.

The launch of the FAFSA application for the upcoming academic year was delayed almost three months as the FAFSA underwent changes as a result of the FAFSA Simplification Act, which was intended to streamline the financial aid application process. The U.S. Department of Education rolled out the new FAFSA on Dec. 31 for the 2024-25 academic year, but it has since encountered a number of issues, delays and errors in processing student applications.

The PA State Grant Program uses the FAFSA form as its primary application point to determine student eligibility for a PA State Grant award. Historically, May 1 was used as the deadline for students to complete their FAFSA for PA State Grant purposes. More information is available at www.pheaa.org.

Spring Gobbler Season Underway - Pennsylvania’s 2024 spring gobbler season begins this Saturday, April 27, with a half-day hunt for junior hunters and mentored hunters 16 and under. All participants must be accompanied by adults, and hunting hours are from a half hour before sunrise until noon. 

The regular season runs May 4-31, with hunting hours going from a half hour before sunrise until noon from May 4-18, then from a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset from May 20-31. For more information visit pgc.pa.gov

Representative Jill Cooper
55th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jordan Frei
jillCooper.com / Facebook.com/RepJillCooper