Pennsylvania Considers Teenage Cell Phone Use while Driving

State Rep Kate Harper Proposes Cell Phone Ban for Teenage Drivers

A new Pennsylvania bill, if adopted into law, would impose new restrictions on cell phone use while driving on 16- and 17-year-old. Should the law pass, Pennsylvania would join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in placing cell phone limits on young drivers. The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper.

While lawmakers have studied the issue in Harrisburg for some time now, Harper’s support was solidified after listening to doctors from children’s hospitals. The teenage mind is still developing and has difficulty handling multiple tasks, she said.

“Its ability to assimilate information from various sources is not what it might be years later,” Harper said.

According to AAA, there were 101 fatalities and 9,726 crashes during 2007 involving drivers under the age of 18. No data is provided on how many of those accidents involved a cell phone.

However, Harper thinks the most controversial part of the bill would be to limit the number of passengers for drivers under age 18. “The thing that’s probably going to be most controversial is you can’t drive with more than one passenger under the age of 18, unless they are family members,” she said.

In 2007, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a study that said teen passengers are one of the greatest distractions for young drivers.”

Hands-free phone devices have grown in popularity in recent years, in part because drivers think they are safe when both hands are on the wheel. But Harper agrees with recent research that suggests talking and driving simultaneously is hazardous, regardless of the device, because speaking takes up much of the brain’s attention.

Though recent testimony focused on the development of teenage brains, Harper said an outright ban on phone conversations for all drivers could happen in the future: “How many of us put on makeup, eat lunch, do a number of things that are distracting?” Harper said. “It leads to absent-minded driving.”

New Jersey bans all handheld devices behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Furthermore, New Jersey forbids texting by all drivers, and restricts bus drivers and young drivers from using any cell phone device.

Teens would also need 65 hours of training prior to earning a junior driver’s license, a 15-hour increase, under this proposal. Ten hours of nighttime driving and five hours in snow or rain would be required to simulate the various conditions people face on the roads.

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