Pa. to ban cell phone use while driving

Pennsylvania Budget shapiro ap 2024 02 06 5

Crashes where a distracted driver was a contributing factor are down in Pennsylvania in the past decade, as crashes overall have declined, according to state data.

In some years, it was the second-leading cause of accidents. In 2022, it was the third-leading cause. That was behind speed and improper turning, but ahead of drinking alcohol, careless passing and tailgating.

Twenty-eight states already ban cell phone use while driving, according information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile, at least 23 states have laws on collecting data on traffic stops, the group said.

Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery, the chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said caucus members were concerned that police could abuse a broad new power to pull over motorists and target racial minorities.

Collecting traffic stop data is important for accountability, Nelson said.

“I think this will be a significant win for transparency and help to continue building trust between community members and those who are sworn to serve and protect,” Nelson said in an interview.

Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, who worked for several years to get the provision into law, called it a “big step for Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania State Police recently began voluntarily collecting and reporting traffic stop data and some municipal police departments do as well, Bullock said.

But the methods of individual departments aren’t uniform, like they will be under the new law, Bullock said.

Data released last year by the state police and analyzed by the National Policing Institute showed no disparities between racial and ethnic groups for warnings, citations or arrests. But troopers were more than twice more likely to search Black and Hispanic drivers than white drivers, the report showed.

Under the forthcoming law, data that police must report includes the reason for the stop, details from a search of the vehicle and the race, ethnicity, age and gender of the driver who was stopped. Police forces that serve municipalities under 5,000 people are exempt from the requirement.

The data collection requirement takes effect in a year and a half. After the cell phone ban takes effect, drivers get a grace period of another year in which they only receive a written warning for violating it.

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