A bipartisan group of state legislators met Tuesday to discuss a bill they hope will curb distracted driving, a national trend the State College Police Department said is widely excused as one of the faults of a fast-paced society.
Fourteen states have banned texting while driving, and a bill has been introduced in both the state House of Representatives and the State Senate to make Pennsylvania the 15th. The bills would amend Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes by prohibiting the use of electronic wireless communication devices while operating a vehicle.
"Many people accept that it is increasingly dangerous to drive a vehicle with all of the distractions," State College Police Department Capt. Dana Leonard said.
State Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, introduced the House bill, which would ban all drivers from text messaging and would ban drivers with learner's permits or junior licenses from using any wireless communication device while driving.
The bill would also implement a public education and awareness program to curb distracted driving in the state.
"We've seen certainly some horrendous accident data that indicates that as technology proliferates, so do the accidents," said Markosek, House Transportation Committee Chairman. "Many drivers do not act responsibly, and therefore a state law is needed to force folks to act responsibly and help educate the public to the dangers of distracted driving."
Markosek said bills to ban cell phone use while driving have been "overwhelmingly supported" by the public.
Paul Jovanis, a Penn State civil and environmental engineering professor, said distracted driving is getting worse.
A study by the University of Utah found that college students have an eight times greater risk of getting in an accident when driving while distracted, according to a House of Representatives press release introducing the new bill.
"I don't think [college students] have a good sense of how risky it is," Jovanis said.
He's working to analyze data to determine how distraction increases the risk of crashes. There are distractions worse than cell phones, Jovanis said, including eating or reading in the car, handling pets and adjusting the radio.
"We would support anything that makes the streets safer," Leonard said.