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August 02, 2017

Pa. bill proposes ban on talking on hand-held phone while driving

If approved, the law would enforce modest fines, points on license

Although many neighboring states have already banned talking on a hand-held cellphone, Pennsylvania drivers remain free to do just that.

But that could change if state officials pass a proposed bill that prohibits drivers over the age of 18 from talking on their phone without hands-free technology.

House Bill 1684introduced by Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe, Pike) last week, would also ban drivers under 18 from using a phone in the car at all.

The legislation would enforce a $50 fine and three points against a license for offenders nabbed by police for the first time. Those who rack up subsequent offenses would face a $150 fine each time.

The bill states that drivers would be allowed to use a hand-held device in an emergency, but only if they don't have hands-free accessories in the car. It would also allow on-duty emergency responders to use hand-held phones if they don't have hands-free technology at their disposal.

The bill also states that a driver who holds a hand-held phone to or close to the ears "is presumed to be engaging in a call." Drivers can dispute that presumption with evidence that they were not on a call, the bill states.

"Depending on which source you review, millions of automobile crashes occur across our nation each year where cellphone usage is to blame,” Brown said in a statement.

New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia are among states in the region that forbid drivers from using hand-held phones.

“The intent of this legislation is to make our roadways safer and create consistency for motorists driving through our state from border states that ban hand-held cellphone use," Brown said.

The bill was introduced last week with more than a dozen sponsors and given to House Transportation Committee for consideration.

Pennsylvania has a similar law in place for texting while driving, but that violation carries only a $50 fine and no points against a license.