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Distracted Driving in Pennsylvania

Anything that causes a driver to divert his or her full attention from driving, even for just a moment, is a distraction. A distraction can take one or more of three forms:

  • Visual – taking one's eyes off the road.

  • Manual – taking one's hand off the wheel.

  • Cognitive – taking one's mind off of driving.

There are many causes of distracted driving. Eating or drinking, smoking or interacting with passengers can all divert a driver's attention from the road. Nearly everyone has a story about a driver he or she saw applying makeup or even reading the newspaper while piloting a 2,500 pound vehicle at highway speed.

Statistics for distraction-related motor vehicle accidents prior to 2010 are scarce. Beginning that year, however, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control began to track the number of deaths attributable to distraction. In 2015, the CDC reported annual percentage increases in distracted driving deaths, totaling approximately 13% between 2010 and 2015. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has even created a separate web page dedicated to addressing causes and solutions.

Cell Phones as A Distraction

To those of us old enough to remember when we answered the phone and the caller asked “How are you?” instead of “Where are you?”, the proliferation of cell phones in the past five to ten years is nothing less than revolutionary. According to an April 2016 survey by digital technology market research firm Newzoo, nearly three out of four Americans now own a cell phone.

Unfortunately, there is growing evidence of a strong correlation between the explosion in mobile phone use and the increase in distracted driving deaths and injuries. Most experts agree that driving while texting is among the most hazardous of all common activities because it simultaneously creates visual, manual and cognitive distractions.

The State and Local Response

In 2007, Washington State became the first jurisdiction in the country to ban texting and driving. Since then, an overwhelming majority of states have followed suit. Many make the violation a so-called “primary” offense, which means that a peace officer need not have a separate basis on which to stop a vehicle in order to charge a violation. Others, such as Florida (whose law is found in Sec. 316.305 of the Motor Vehicle Code, F.S.A. Title XXIII, Sec. 316.305), treat it as a so-called secondary offense, which requires an independent basis for the stop. Among those few states that have yet to impose a blanket ban, many prohibit texting and driving by a novice operator. Pennsylvania's ban on drivers' use of Interactive Wireless Communication Devices prohibits drivers from sending, reading or writing a text-based communication while their vehicles are in motion.

However, Pennsylvania's law (found in the Motor Vehicle Code at 75 Pa. C.S.A. Secs. 102 and 3316) provides that it is not a violation for a driver to read or select a telephone number in order to place a call. Because it is nearly impossible for police to distinguish between this activity and texting, critics complain that this “lookup” exception makes enforcement of the texting ban nearly impossible. Indeed, a total ban on handheld device use was included in the original texting ban legislation, but it was stricken from the final version.

If You Are Injured by A Distracted Driver

I am Pittsburgh car accident attorney Kim A. Bodnar and I know that while prevention remains the best tool for combating distracted driving, those who continue to drive while distracted can no longer plead ignorance.

If you or a loved one is injured in a crash with a distracted driver, you need aggressive legal representation in order to ensure that he or she is held accountable. Call me today for a consultation. There is no charge or obligation.