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January 16, 2020

Pennsylvania takes step toward prohibiting drivers from using handheld cellphones

State House has passed legislation, but it makes talking on the phone without hands-free connection a secondary offense

Government Driving
Pennsylvania House talking cellphone ban PA Images/Sipa USA

The Pennsylvania House passed a bill on Wednesday that would ban talking on a handheld device while driving. The measure would be considered a secondary violation, meaning police would not be able to pull someone over solely because they were using their cellphone.

Pennsylvania is considering restrictions on how people talk on their cellphones while driving. The State House approved a bill that would prohibit motorists from using handheld phones while driving. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosemary Brown, a Republican from Monroe County, makes talking on a cellphone without a hands-free connection, while behind the wheel of a vehicle, a secondary offense. That means police would not be able to pullover a driver solely because they are seen talking on cellphones, but it can compound problems for drivers who get stopped for other violations.

Talking on a cellphone would result in a $150 fine on top of any primary violation. If fatal crash occurs while a driver is on his or her phone, the cellphone violation could tack a maximum of five years additional years to the sentence for vehicular homicide.

The proposed legislation passed in the House 120-74 on Wednesday, and now goes to the Senate. 

Brown was "disappointed" her bill was amended to make the using a handheld cellphone a secondary offense, but noted the change was supported by the majority of House members. 

"I am committed to continue to work on this legislation in the manner that I would like to see the final product end up on our governor's desk," Brown said.

Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat from Philadelphia, voted for the amendment citing potential racial profiling issues if the bill had passed without it.

"Racial profiling is real," he said in a statement to the House. "And as an African-American male who criss-crosses the commonwealth, I am nervous at times when I am driving in Pennsylvania." 

Since the bill would amend the current motor vehicle law, texting while driving, currently a primary offense, also would become a secondary violation. Texting while driving imposes a $50 fine.

Hand-held phone use would be allowed in the case of an emergency. An individual would be able to make a call if that person is trying to contact 911 or the police.

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