New Texting and Teenage Driver Laws Make Roads Safer for All
Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for teenagers in the United States.
In fact, teen drivers have fatal crashes at four times the rate of adult drivers, and distracted driving caused by talking on a cellphone or texting are two reasons this number is so high.
Many residents in our area recall the tragic 2005 accident that took the lives of Jay and Jean Good of Lititz. The Goods were driving their daughter, Jacy, home from Muhlenberg College on Route 222 when a teenage driver texting on his cellphone caused a tractor trailer to swerve and slam into the Good’s car.
Jacy, a Warwick High School graduate, survived the crash, but has required much physical therapy to recover from the coma she suffered from it.
A study by the Virginia Tech Driving Institute revealed that those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in an accident, and the National Traffic and Safety Administration reported 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 were a result of distracted driving.
Too many Pennsylvania newspaper headlines recounting accidents that bear these numbers out are why the Legislature recently passed legislation making it illegal to text or write emails on an electronic device while operating a vehicle. I supported this legislation, and the bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Nov. 10.
Beginning in early March, police officers will be empowered to stop a vehicle if they witness the driver texting and issue a $50 fine. Pennsylvania now joins 35 other states and the District of Columbia in prohibiting texting while driving.
But distracted driving accidents are not caused only by use of electronic devices. Being aware of the road around you and proper use of safety equipment are learned abilities that come with time and experience behind the wheel.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, from 2009 to 2010 there was a 43 percent increase in fatalities when an accident involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver.
That is why more than 40 states have updated their graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, which were developed to allow young drivers to gain critical driving experience and skills gradually over time in low-risk environments.
House Bill 9, of which I was a co-sponsor, makes important updates to our GDL laws and became Act 81 when it was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Oct. 25.
The new regulations increase from 50 to 65 the number of hours for behind-the-wheel training for those with learner’s permits. Of those hours, 10 need to be completed at night and five during inclement weather.
Furthermore, a teen driver may only now have one, non-family passenger younger than 18 in the first six months of being licensed, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. After the first six months and until the junior driver turns 18, a limit of three non-family passengers under age 18 is permitted.
Another part of House Bill 9 strengthens the state’s seatbelt laws, allowing the police to now stop any vehicle in which they observe a passenger under 18 not wearing a seatbelt.
The enactment of these new regulations will save lives and improve safety for all motorists in Pennsylvania, and young drivers and their parents should know the enhanced teen driving measures take effect on Dec. 24.
State Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Charles Lardner