Briggs: Amended cell phone bill would weaken current law on texting while driving

HARRISBURG, Jan. 15 – A House bill aimed at increasing safety on the roads was amended in a way that would actually weaken current state law and send Pennsylvania backward in efforts to stop texting while driving, state Rep. Tim Briggs said today.

House Bill 37, passed by the House today, would prohibit the use of handheld communications devices while driving. But an amendment added to the bill Tuesday made it a secondary offense for adult drivers to text or use a hand-held device, meaning police officers would have to have another reason to pull a driver over in the first place.

Texting while driving is currently a primary offense in Pennsylvania.

“I support a ban on using phones and other devices while driving, but I voted against this bill. Years ago, we fought hard to make texting while driving a primary offense, and reducing it to a secondary offense through this bill is a step backward,” said Briggs, D-Montgomery. “Proponents of the changes say this will mirror seat belt law, which is a secondary offense for adults. But if we’re really concerned about safety, failing to buckle up should be a primary offense as well.”

Currently, 48 states and Washington D.C. ban text messaging while driving, and it is a primary offense in all but three of those states. 

The overall goal is safety, Briggs said, and H.B. 37 as amended would make it more difficult for police to enforce a ban.

“We’ve worked on this issue for many years, and the changes in this bill would lead to more blood on the roads. If we’re really going to cut down on distracted driving, we have to make sure this offense is treated with the seriousness it deserves,” Briggs said. “I hope the Senate will correct this when the bill reaches that chamber, but the House should have sent over the best bill possible.”

House Bill 37 as amended passed the House 120-74 and will be sent to the Senate.