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To combat distracted driving, PA limits the use of cell phones and electronic devices

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Nearly a dozen years after a grieving mother approached Sen. Rosemary Brown at a community meeting and asked her to support a stricter distracted driving law, Gov. Josh Shapiro on Wednesday signed a ban on the use of portable electronics behind the wheel.

Eileen Miller’s 21-year-old son was killed in 2010 when a distracted truck driver crossed the median of a highway in Monroe County and crashed into his car. Brown, R-Monroe, who was then a new state representative, said Miller’s tears and determination pushed her to continue pushing legislation through six legislative sessions.

“I knew it was right,” Brown said Wednesday during a signing ceremony at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg. “And I knew it was imperative to do our best to change the behavior of drivers behind the wheel when using a cell phone to prevent accidents.”

The law allows police to ticket drivers using cell phones and tablets while driving

The new law, named after Miller’s son, Paul Miller Jr., allows police to stop and issue tickets to drivers using handheld smartphones, tablets and other devices while they are on the road. It will come into effect in a year, but for the first year the police will issue warnings. After that, the violation carries a $50 fine.

“I made it happen, Paul,” Eileen Miller said, remembering the promise she made to her son when she identified his body. “This doesn’t just apply to Paul. This is for every family in Pennsylvania where state troopers don’t have to knock on their door to tell them their loved one was killed by something as preventable as distracted driving.”

2013: In the final chapter of the tragedy, the driver is convicted for a fatal accident in Saylorsburg

The law also includes efforts to study possible racial profiling

The law, the 29th such measure in the country, also requires state police and municipal police in cities with 5,000 residents or more to collect data on a driver’s race, ethnicity, gender and age and other details during a traffic stop .

That amendment to Brown’s bill, which passed in the state House in April, was a priority of the Black Legislative Caucus, said Chairman Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery. The reporting requirement increases transparency and ensures that when police take action to ensure road safety, “they do not do so at the expense of marginalized communities.”

Legislative efforts to prevent distracted driving predate the death of Paul Miller Jr., Shapiro said before signing the bill. In 2008, Jacy Good was driving home with her parents after graduating from Muhlenberg College when a distracted driver caused a tractor-trailer to crash into their car.

Good’s parents died, leaving her permanently disabled, Shapiro said. Meeting Good persuaded him to support legislation to end distracted driving. And although Pennsylvania passed a ban on texting while driving in 2012, other uses of smartphones remained legal.

“People like Jacy and Eileen believed and never gave up. And thank goodness they didn’t. We are all better off because of their determination,” Shapiro said, noting that the 11,000 distracted driving crashes in Pennsylvania last year exceeded the number of crashes involving alcohol.

Cell phone, electronics ban while driving effective in other states

In states that have adopted similar bans, the number of distracted driving accidents has decreased significantly, Shapiro said.

Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, a former chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, said a renewed effort to pass distracted driving legislation coincided with a national focus on police shootings and other incidents stemming from traffic stops involving Black and brown people .

Bullock said she looked to Massachusetts, where state officials had conducted a pilot study on whether a distracted driving law would have the potential to increase pretextual traffic stops based on the driver’s race or skin color.

“What we found … is that we couldn’t do the pilot because we didn’t have statewide, coordinated collection of police data or traffic stop data,” Bullock said.

The amendment championed by Bullock and Nelson will hold police accountable while providing data to improve public safety, Shapiro said, adding that it is an example of what Democrats and Republicans can achieve when they come together to save Pennsylvanians’ lives. a little bit better”. ”

“By making compromises, we can make our roads safer,” Shapiro said. “By compromising, we hear the pleas of a mother who will ultimately save the lives of other children in this Commonwealth. By making compromises we get things done.”

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than two decades, most recently covering criminal and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest in between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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