Drivers can expect Senate Bill No. 37 to mandate enhanced responsibility while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth. On June 22, 2023, the PA Senate passed SB 37, which will prohibit the use of hand-held devices while driving.
KingSpry’s Taisha Tolliver-Duran, Esq. emphasizes what you need to know to avoid litigation and increased insurance rates subsequent to distracted driving in Pennsylvania.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. The most frequent cause of distracted driving is cell phone use.
The consequences of distracted driving can be and are fatal. In Pennsylvania, nine (9) families lose a loved one due to distracted driving each day. All it takes is a quick glance at a text message or initiation of a phone call to reap the consequences of distracted driving.
Intent of SB 37
Due to the severe and increasing effects of distracted driving, Pennsylvania Senator Rosemary M. Brown proposed SB 37 to decrease the number of fatalities and injuries faced on the roadways of the Commonwealth.
SB 37 will impose the behavior of utilizing technology behind the wheel with stricter deterrents, as it aims to protect innocent drivers, while penalizing those who choose to drive distracted.
Parents and guardians of new drivers must certify that their child has viewed educational material on the dangers of distracted driving prior to their receipt of a driver’s license.
To further educate drivers of the change in the law, this legislation includes a provision directing law enforcement to issue warnings for violations for the first six (6) months following passage of the bill in the PA House of Representatives.
What are the Consequences of Distracted Driving?
SB 37 will implement the primary offense for driving a vehicle while holding or supporting any electronic wireless device, regardless of the driver’s age. Drivers who violate this provision will not receive points on their license but will be fined $100 each time they are cited for distracted driving.
SB 37 also implements a 5-year optional sentence enhancement for those guilty of homicide by vehicle and a violation of the hand-held prohibition during the same incident, which mirrors Pennsylvania’s current texting ban.
Typically, when a driver is sued for damages caused by a car accident, the lawsuit is brought in the legal principle of negligence. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or someone else. If you cause an accident, and the harmed driver can prove you were distracted and/or using a hand-held device when the accident occurred, negligence is generally established.
Further, if you received a citation for violating the potential provisions of SB 37, you may be presumed negligent and you would have to prove you did not cause the accident in an effort to mitigate potential fines or damages owed.
If a driver causes injury or death to another person while texting behind the wheel, the driver may face a 2-year jail sentence for causing serious bodily injury, or a 5-year jail sentence for causing a fatality.
Like most traffic offenses,ifyou get a ticket for distracted driving, it can affect your insurance rate. In Pennsylvania, citations for distracted driving do not add points to your license, and therefore do not increase your rates. However, if you commit a “moving violation”, i.e., cause an accident while texting, you can expect your insurance rates to increase.
Tips for Compliance with Enhanced Driver Responsibility
- Do not Disturb: Most people have a cellular device that allows them to turn on do not disturb. This feature decreases a driver’s urge to look at their phone while driving and allows drivers to focus on the task at hand, operating their vehicle safely.
- If it’s urgent, pull over: It is recommended that drivers who need to use their wireless device park their vehicle on the shoulder of the road or in a safe location where the vehicle remains stationary.
- Use a self-phone mount: Purchasing a self-phone mount will allow drivers to utilize GPS services or take phone calls without holding or supporting their device in their hand.
- Put your phone away: If your car doesn’t have the latest Bluetooth or CarPlay features that read texts to you while driving, tuck your phone away in the glove box or in a purse. The cost of distracted driving is not worth glancing at a text.
- Communicate: If you are expecting a text or a call from someone, and are unable to engage in a hands-free manner, let the individual know you are driving and plan to have that conversation at a different time.
Takeaway for Drivers in the Commonwealth
The AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index found that 87.5% of drivers believe that distracted driving has outpaced all other traffic-related issues, as it is a severe safety concern. PA’s Legislature has heard these concerns, and proposed SB 37 in an effort to protect drivers in the Commonwealth.
With high margins of support, passing in the state senate with a 37-11 vote, drivers can expect SB 37 to become law in the near future. To avoid costly litigation, insurance rates and penalties, drivers should obey the laws of the roadway and consider the consequences of distracted driving before picking up their device behind the wheel.
If you have questions regarding driver responsibility, an attorney at KingSpry is prepared to assist you.