Is distracted driving on the rise in Pennsylvania despite legal bans?

Even though Pennsylvania bans texting while driving, the number of drivers caught engaging in this dangerous habit has increased for the last two years.

Distracted driving contributes to a significant number of accidents in Bethlehem and other parts of Pennsylvania each year. According to The Pennsylvania Tribune-Review, in 2013, distraction was a factor in 14,372 crashes in the state. These accidents represented 12 percent of all reported accidents. Tragically, at least one of these crashes was a fatal car accident that claimed a person's life.

To reduce distracted driving and associated accidents, Pennsylvania authorities have enforced a ban on texting while driving since 2012. Unfortunately, local data shows that many drivers may ignore this ban. In fact, citation rates suggest that distracted driving has actually become more common since the ban took effect.

Risky behaviors

According to Fox News, last year alone, Pennsylvania drivers received 2,121 citations for distracted driving behaviors, such as texting or wearing earphones. The 1,410 drivers cited for texting in 2014 represented an increase over the 1,190 and 1,340 drivers cited in 2012 and 2013. The number of drivers caught wearing headphones also rose, from 523 in 2012 to 711 last year.

These increases could reflect the fact that law enforcement authorities are becoming more adept at detecting and citing distracted driving. However, this pattern may also indicate that current state distracted driving laws are not adequately stopping this dangerous behavior.

Legal restrictions

Critics have worried that the current laws are difficult to enforce, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Confirming that a driver is texting, rather than using a phone for other purposes, is notoriously difficult for authorities. Drivers who text without getting caught may be more likely to continue this behavior, rather than adjusting their habits.

State laws also may not go far enough to punish distracted drivers. Last fall, The Pennsylvania Tribune-Review reported that Pennsylvania failed to receive federal funding to help authorities enforce texting bans. The state was not given the grant for two reasons. First, current laws don't increase sanctions for people caught texting while driving repeatedly. Second, drivers under age 18 are permitted to use cell phones for purposes other than texting.

Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that could address one of these issues. According to ABC News, this legislation would make any form of handheld cell phone use a secondary offense for all drivers. Drivers would receive increasing fines for their first, second and third offenses, with a maximum fine of $150. This could help deter motorists from distracted driving and reduce the risk of associated injuries and fatalities.

Future outlook

Unfortunately, even if this bill succeeds, it may still leave room for dangerous driver behaviors. Authorities cannot pull drivers over for secondary offenses. Instead, they must conduct traffic stops based on primary offenses and then issue citations for secondary offenses. If handheld cell phone use becomes a secondary offense, it could still be difficult for authorities to punish distracted drivers.

Sadly, if past statistics are any indication, distracted driving accidents may harm many people in Pennsylvania this year. Anyone who has been injured in one of these accidents should consider consulting with an attorney about seeking legal recourse.

Keywords: texting, distracted, driving, accident