Daniel’s Law and Distracted Driving in Pennsylvania
Distracted driving has long been a problem on Pennsylvania roadways. Though talking and texting is banned, ticketing and verbal warnings have done little to deter drivers from using their phones while driving. However, a new piece of legislation aims to change that. Below, our Philadelphia car accident lawyers explore Daniel’s Law in greater detail.
In a unanimous vote, Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed Daniel’s Law, and it was signed into effect on November 4, 2016, by Governor Tom Wolf. The legislation is designed to crack down on distracted driving and encourage more stringent penalties for drivers caught texting and driving whose actions result in serious bodily injury or death. Introduced by state representative Jaret Gibbons, the law is named in memory of Daniel Gallatin, a Lawrence County resident who was killed in a motorcycle accident in May 2013 when he was struck by a driver who was texting while driving.
“Distracted driving has fatal, irreversible, and grave consequences, and by signing this bill, I hope to make our roads and highways safer for our citizens and everyone using them,” commented Governor Wolf.
Before passing the law, Pennsylvania considered distracted driving a summary offense, which amounts to little more than a $50 fine and associated court costs. If you hold a non-commercial license, texting and driving did not carry points and was not reported on your driving record. For commercial drivers, the offense was recorded as a non-sanction violation.
Daniel’s Law, however, changes the way people are punished for distracted driving. For example:
- Distracted driving is now punished similarly to drunk driving.
- Penalties for distracted drivers convicted of vehicular homicide have increased – these drivers could face an additional 5 years in prison.
- A texting and driving offense will add points to your driving record and can lead to an increase in insurance premiums.
DISTRACTED DRIVING KILLS
This law is meant to do more than simply punish those who text and drive – it’s designed to educate the public about how Pennsylvania views distracted driving. According to the National High Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 Pennsylvania saw more than 14,800 crashes and 66 deaths resulting from distracted driving. The hope is that Daniel’s Law will help curb these numbers by reducing instances of distracted driving.
For many Pennsylvania residents, the law is a relief. Police in Carlisle, PA report that drivers who text while driving often display erratic behavior similar to what is often seen with drunk driving. Effectively punishing these drivers should send a clear message: Distracted driving is dangerous, and it won’t be tolerated on Pennsylvania’s roadways.
OTHER DISTRACTED DRIVING LAWS
Texting and driving is a primary law in Pennsylvania, meaning it’s strictly prohibited. Unlike states like California, however, Pennsylvania does enforce a hands-free law. Currently, it’s not unlawful to talk on the phone and drive, but some municipalities may have rules that dictate otherwise.
Though it is not considered unlawful, Pennsylvania officials strongly discourage any form of distracted driving, which includes anything that takes your attention off the road. Common distractions include:
- Eating, drinking, or smoking while operating a vehicle. This poses a safety threat as you have to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road.
- Emailing, using social media networks, or navigating with mobile GPS. For your safety, use a mounted GPS or your in-vehicle navigation system.
- Personal grooming such as brushing hair, shaving, or applying makeup. Make sure you are ready and well-groomed before you leave home.
- Looking at people or sights off the highway. This includes rubbernecking as you pass a crash site or accident.
While you might not be fined for these offenses, officers can use them as an excuse to pull you over, especially if you’re driving erratically. For your safety and the safety of drivers around you, focus on the road while driving in Pennsylvania. Thanks to Daniel’s Law, the penalties are now much steeper.