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Better put your phone down: Distracted driving bill passes Pa. House

A driver uses a cell phone while driving
Robert F. Bukaty
In this file photo, a driver uses a cell phone while driving in Portland, Maine. A bill to ban the use of handheld cellular devices while driving in the state took effect in 2019. Similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania in 2023.

Drivers might soon face harsher penalties for using handheld devices while driving.

Legislation banning the use of handheld devices has passed the state House. It would allow police to fine drivers $50 if they are caught using a cellphone.

The Senate already passed this bill and will now review the amended version coming from the House. If passed it will head to the governor’s desk.

If this becomes law, police would issue warnings for the first 12 months, and issue fines after that.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe.

She said she was spurred by the multitude of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving.

The bill would not entirely ban the use of cell phones or other handheld devices, but rather how they are used.

“It really allows us to say ‘get the phone out of your hand,’” she said. “You can use your cell phone when you’re driving, speaker, Bluetooth, but you should not be holding the phone or supporting it with any part of your body.”

In 2022, distracted driving accounted for nearly 3,700 more crashes than drunken driving, according to PennDOT.

Texting while driving has been illegal in Pennsylvania since 2012.

During floor debate, House Transportation Chair Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, noted 26 states, including all of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, already ban the use of handheld devices while driving.

The bill passed 124 to 77.

Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, was a no vote. The Republican said the bill would hurt those who drive older cars or can’t afford a new one that has wireless technology. He said that if an officer pulls someone over and realizes they are using their phone, it should be a secondary offense.