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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

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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